Screenshot of an accessible digital map and text

Map Explore: Using Customize Maps

Orientation and Mobility Specialists: YOU can now create accessible digital maps to help build solid mental mapping skills!

ObjectiveEd has done it again! ObjectiveEd has taken a challenging need and found a digital solution using cutting edge technology! Using Google Maps and sonification, orientation and mobility students are now able to access digital maps – created specifically for them by their O&M instructor – to learn more about their local neighborhood, city or beyond! 

The Need

Sighted travelers have instant access to digital maps; users can type in an address, zoom in to see details, zoom out to understand the “big picture” of surrounding areas, visually trace the roads to determine the best route, etc. Travelers who are blind or low vision do have access to accessible apps that offer turn-by-turn directions and/or a “look around” feature. However, these apps are limited in nature. Turn-by-turn directions typically encourages rote route travel and does not provide the “big picture” or context of where they are in relationship to the city or larger areas. With rote route directions, travelers tend to rely on the next direction and do not need to develop mental mapping or re-routing strategies. With the look around feature, travelers can search to find businesses nearby or nearby streets. But, students who are learning orientation skills need the ability to physically trace the digital streets in order to build a strong mental map with a full understanding of how the streets are laid out, the spatial relationships between streets, and how businesses/important landmarks are related to these streets.

In the 21st century world, students who are blind or low vision need digital maps to support mental mapping skills. The power of an iPad/touch screen tablet is the ability to drag a finger around the screen so that the student can immediately relate the physical location on the screen to the spatial map concepts being displayed on the screen. (Example: The video below demonstrates an accessible map of the area between Kevin’s house and his school. Located on Johnston Street – a short north/south street – Kevin’s house is in the top right area of the map/screen and his elementary school is on Pittsboro Elementary School Road, an east/west road located at the bottom left corner of the map/screen.) Just like a classic tactile map, students can now use digital maps to build solid mental maps.) Kevin, who is blind, can physically trace the sonified streets on the iPad. The street names, intersections and pins are announced as Kevin drags his finger over them.

Image 1: Screenshot of Kevin’s Neighborhood and School Map, created with Google Maps and Map Explore software. The visual Google map includes streets, squares representing buildings, and 6 pins. The accessible digital map includes sonified and labeled streets and 6 pins. The picture is a screenshot of the digital map – I have added text (outside of the map) labeling each pin since this is an image and not the interactive map. The customized pins have been placed on the digital map by Kevin’s O&M. This is the map used in the video embedded in this post.

Screenshot of Kevin's map with text added to label the 6 pins: Kevin's house, Blossom Flowers, Sheriff's Office, tennis courts, baseball field, Pittsboro Elementary.

Top 4 Advantages to Using Digital Maps

The Goal

The primary goal of using a digital map is to support students in developing solid mental maps for orientation and mobility purposes. Fearless independent blind travelers have one thing in common – they have perfected the ability to create mental maps and they maintain these running mental maps, without consciously thinking about it.

Map Explore can provide quality digital maps that are used to preview an area –  building that mental map! – before the student actually travels to the area. With a digital map, a student can focus on the orientation concepts in a safe environment without noise, safety or cane skill distractions. A touch screen map can provide the student with information about the streets including the name of the streets, the direction the street runs, often the type of street (T intersection, dead end, round about, etc.) and the spatial relationships of the streets. Customized pins are added to provide important information about buildings, locations, and areas. The O&M can choose how many pins to add and the pin labels – keeping in mind the student’s current level and the goals of the lesson/map.

Map Explore Software Commands

Map Explore uses self-voicing and does not require students to know VoiceOver commands. Only a few commands are used to explore the map or to play the map game.

The video below demonstrates how to interact with the map. The streets are sonified, meaning that student should drag his/her finger around the screen to find and follow a street. Each street will be announced and a humming sound is heard (sonficiation) as the student touches or drags his/her finger along the street. If the student’s finger moves off the street, the sound stops. It is recommended to drag slowly during the initial exploration of the map and to stop when the streets or pins are announced. Keep in mind that the goal is to learn the spatial layout of the streets and how they related to each other and to the pins. Students should be encouraged to listen to the announcements and memorize the street names. Students should systematical search for streets in order to glean this information! Careful attention should be given to the direction that each street runs, where the street is located on the map/screen, and the relationship between streets. As they are following the streets and learning the street grid (or layout), students can also incorporate what pins are along which streets and where these pins are in relationship to the streets, other pins, and physically where they are on the iPad. The video below, Map Explore: Explore Mode demonstrates tried and true methods for exploring the digital map. The customized map used in this video was created for Kevin, an elementary O&M student who is learning the area between his house and his school.



By Diane Brauner

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