Colorful top down image of an intersection with traffic and buildings

Build O&M concepts: Tactile Town and O&M apps

Looking for creative way to teach various O&M concepts?

As a COMS with 25+ years in the field, I love teaching students to use GPS and O&M apps! However, long before that first O&M app is introduced, students should have strong O&M concepts. Tactile maps are the first piece to building strong O&M skills, including a mental map of the area.

Paths to Technology resources on building O&M concepts

There is a whole section on Paths to Technology dedicated to O&M; many of the posts on this page are activities to support building O&M concepts. In order to be fearless travelers in new environments, students must first build solid O&M concepts and develop strong mental mapping capabilities. Find engaging O&M concept games, activities and apps for all ages in the O&M section! Below are a few general resources about O&M concept development to jump start your lesson planning:

APH’s Tactile Town resource

APH has several tactile map tools to help build O&M concepts, including Tactile Town and the Picture Maker Wheatley Tactile Diagraming Kit and the Draftsman Tactile Drawing Board.The Tactile Town kit is an interactive, 3-D model with a variety of pieces which can be used to create customized maps used to teach numerous O&M concepts. Designed specifically for O&M, the pieces include various types of roads/intersections, 3D buildings, 3D cars and people, 3D stoplights, braille labels, raised lines, etc. The full kit comes with a teacher’s guide (also available in braille) and optional replacement pieces are available. The individual pieces are adhered to a large tri-fold felt board. The Wheatley kit uses a smaller, more portable, bi-fold felt board with pieces that are shapes, lines and gem stones that can be used to create maps, graphs and other diagrams.

Personally, I like to start with Tactile Town with its 3D images and braille labels. The roads are created by using green felt (for the raised grassy areas) making the roads slightly lower. This type of map is easily translated into real environments, as the student’s finger can “shoreline” the raised curb and buildings are realistic 3D models. Cars can be pushed along the roads and 3D pedestrians can stand or “walk” along the sidewalks or be moved across the street. Sidewalks can be added on top of the green “grassy” areas. Students are fully engaged as they act play scenarios!

The Wheatley with its raised lines and shapes is the next step from the more “realistic” Tactile Town. Raised lines represent the streets and different shapes/textures represent various buildings or items along the streets. Students must be able to trace the raised line and infer that it is a road. The Wheatley is designed to be a quick, on-the-fly diagram used to teach a concept.

The Draftsman Tactile Board is a raised line drawing board that uses special film and a stylus to create instant raised line drawings. O&Ms and students can use this tool to quickly draw an O&M map, intersection or other O&M-related images.

The student can use these tools to create diagrams of his/her community or various O&M concepts. Being able to create their own diagrams is a critical skill and is a terrific way for the O&M to confirm that the student has truly mastered the skill!

Drawing resources

APH released the following blog post about Tactile Town.

Photo of Tactile Town with 3d buildings (gym, school and library with braille labels, a road with a fountain in the middle of the circle, crosswalk, and 3D car.

Make maps come to life with Tactile Town: APH article

A fundamental skill for every traveler is the ability to make a mental map. Students who are blind and have low vision often struggle with this concept as it is primarily visual. However, Orientation and Mobility (O&M) instructors have found success in creating tactile maps for students to feel, allowing them to memorize the layout and make their own version of a mental map. APH’s Tactile Town aids in the creation of 3-D maps and supplies students with a more realistic, concrete image of their environment, which is much easier to understand than an abstract, 2-dimensional map.

First developed in 2012 and designed by Karen Poppe, APH Braille and Tactile Literacy Product Manager, Tactile Town provides young students with colorful, textured, 3-D representations of common items found in a city or neighborhood that they can use to make maps. These include houses, buildings, sidewalks, railroad tracks, crosswalks, stop signs, stop lights, yield signs, cars, medians, ponds, cul-de-sacs, pedestrians, and more.

When O&M instructors create maps for a lesson, students can perceive and organize their physical environment specific to the following concepts:​

This is especially useful as students learn to navigate the area around their school or their neighborhood. Thanks to Tactile Town’s high-contrast pieces, students who have low vision are able to visually access what is being shown, while the tactile components give students the chance to feel the different intersections. Students can also use Tactile Town to construct other environments, demonstrate traffic flow, and follow routes with their fingers or by moving the pedestrian figures.​

By creating these maps prior to walking them, students gain confidence inside before they ever have to go outside. Since O&M teaches skills that can be lifesaving to those who are blind or low vision, having confidence when developing these skills is important. Also, by learning new terminology and patterns in an accessible manner, students will be able to focus on implanting their knowledge instead of trying to do both at once.

Tactile Town includes seventeen different route suggestions that increase in difficulty the further the student progresses. Each activity comes with full color photos and labeled sections. Perfect for all students, Tactile Town is a versatile tool that can be utilized again and again, making it essential for every O&M instructor.

Hear what our customers had to say about Tactile Town

Enhance your students’ education by purchasing Tactile Town today!

Source: APH Make maps come to life with Tactile Town article, April 30, 2024

Paths to Technology resources on O&M apps

Once your student has a solid foundation built by using and creating tactile maps, the student is ready to use digital resources to build O&M concepts. Posts on Paths to Technology about O&M apps can be found in both the App section and O&M section. When thinking about O&M apps, most people instantly think about GPS apps or ride share apps. GPS apps – both mainstream apps and apps specifically for blind or low vision travelers – can be used to teach many O&M concepts as well as for turn-by-turn instructions. There are many additional apps that can be used to build O&M concepts, especially mental mapping skills. For example, the coding concept apps, which are basically navigating through a maze, are great for teaching spatial relationships, mental mapping and route planning. There are a number of Blindfold games that can be used to teach spatial relationships and mental mapping. Have you tried Objective Ed’s O&M games? ObjectiveEd has a series of O&M apps from building simple O&M concepts, to navigating through a temple using cardinal directions, to creating and using customized touch screen maps of your student’s community! Don’t forget to use the look around feature in GPS apps to build a mental map before traveling. Here are just a handful of posts available about O&M apps.

Be sure to check out the unplugged coding concept activities that do not require tech or the coding robot activities. (See the Coding Post Summary page for links to the unplugged and robot coding activities that can be used to teach O&M concepts.)

By Diane Brauner

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