Screenshot of BlindSquare app's home page.

Using BlindSquare Simulation Mode to Create Tactile/Visual Maps

Use BlindSquare Simulation Mode to help students create maps of a location.

The Spiel

I am a map-geek. Growing up I liked looking at my father’s National Geographic because the maps tucked in between those iconic glossy pages intrigued me; the maps literally unfolded a world that I knew little about but very much wanted to explore. I keep an atlas in the car because I never know when GPS isn’t going to have a signal, and personally, I don’t want to find myself in the middle of nowhere without being able to find my way out of it. If I had a true home office I would cover an entire wall with maps.

When I became a high school social studies teacher I was appalled that many students had difficulty locating the United States on a map, let alone finding other countries. I waged a personal war against map illiteracy. Maps were an integral part of my instruction, and I have carried it over to my instruction as an O&M Specialist. I carry a Wheatley Tactile Kit in my bag, and it’s my go-to item during lessons.

I began using GPS in the late 1990s for hiking and backpacking, but I still like relying upon USGS quadrant maps. GPS is great technology, and it has improved over the past 20 years. I use it on a daily basis to travel to different school districts in rural North Carolina and while providing O&M instruction. But I insist my students still use maps. Why? GPS is technology, and my motto about technology is: “Technology is great – until it isn’t.” 

I like BlindSquare because it allows me to integrate GPS technology and maps, while enabling student independence. Using BlindSquare simulation mode allows students to “do O&M” even on adverse weather days. I believe every day is a good day for O&M, and that includes adverse weather. No, I’m not taking my students out in weather (tornadoes, floods, plagues of frogs) that could jeopardize safety, but I inform them that life still goes on despite what Mother Nature dishes out. Back to the point: if weather prevents my students and me from physically going out into the community then we are virtually going out to explore a nearby place using BlindSquare’s simulation mode. 

The Activity


Skill/Concept Development

For students using BlindSquare for the first time in conjunction with a tactile kit, I recommend preparing the tactile board by placing streets and the starting location on the board. This should provide a starting point for the student to begin the activity. With each consecutive lesson I recommend providing less scaffolding and allow the student to as the student becomes familiar with BlindSquare and map development; this should enable the student to be more independent.

  1. Instructor and student should sit at a desk/table large enough for the tactile kit to be placed on the surface with plenty of room to work.
  2. Instruct the student to explore the tactile board to identify the starting point and other pertinent information that you provided.
  3. Have the student activate VoiceOver on the iPhone, and then open BlindSquare

    • In BlindSquare, select Search and type in a location; press enter. In this exercise I chose REI at North Hills Mall in Raleigh, NC
    • Save this location to My Places.
    • Go back to BlindSquare’s main screen.
  1. Select My Places, then activate it. Select the location you just saved to My Place. Select Simulation mode. 
  1. On the BlindSquare home screen, pick a category to search. I typically ask my students to find the major locations near them (e.g., mall anchor stores) and important places (e.g., bus stops, information kiosks). For this exercise the student selects Shop and Service. Target is a major store at this outdoor mall, so I ask the student to swipe right until the student hears the information for Target: 155 yards at 4 o’clock. The student should then place a new tactile marker on the map at an approximate distance in the appropriate direction from REI, the starting point. To approximate distance students can use finger widths (e.g., 1 finger width equal to 10 yards), or use a braille ruler with (e.g., 1/2’” equal to 10 yards).
  2. Instruct the student to pick two more shops. The student selects Omega Sports (105 yards at 4 o’clock) and Bank of America (100 yards at 1 o’clock). The student then places two new tactile markers on the map in the appropriate direction and approximate distance from REI, the starting point.
  3. Go back to BlindSquare home screen. Select Travel and Transport. If applicable, ask the student to find the near public transportation stops. In my example, the student locates CAT Bus Stop 8450, Bus Line 8 at 45 yards at 11 o’clock. The student places a new tactile marker in the appropriate direction and approximate distance from the starting point, REI.
  4. Go back to BlindSquare home screen. Select Food. The student found Pieology at 16 yards at 5 o’clock and Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream at 65 yards at 5 o’clock. The student places tactile markers on the map in appropriate direction and approximate distance from REI, the starting point.
  5. The student should now have an accurate map of places of interest around the location simulated in BlindSquare.

Suggested Follow-On Activity

After the student has virtually explored the location using BlindSquare simulation mode, I want my student to physically explore the space. I recommend traveling with the student to the location and instruct the student to use the map to find the places of interest. Then repeat using only BlindSquare, and then combine using BlindSquare in conjunction with the map.

Keep these questions in mind as the student completes the activity.

–Your Friendly Neighborhood O&M Specialist, Daniel Simmons


By daniel.simmons

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