Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Enhancing Spatial Learning and Mobility Training of Visually Impaired People-A Technical Paper on the Internet-Based Tactile and Audio-Tactile Mapping

Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Enhancing Spatial Learning and Mobility Training of Visually Impaired People-A Technical Paper on the Internet-Based Tactile and Audio-Tactile Mapping

Article excerpt

Introduction

While we do not know a great deal about how the blind perceive space, we do know that blind people know less about geospatial configuration and the location of objects in space than do sighted people, as this knowledge is generally acquired by seeing. This makes everyday tasks extremely challenging, a result of both the impairment itself and the fact that most environments are designed to 'cue' sighted people. It is difficult for a blind person to navigate alone in unknown space, and only limited efforts have been made to help them navigate in the built environment. The addition of multisensory information to maps has also been limited until recently. In the case of blind and visually impaired people, there is a growing awareness of the environments that fail to accommodate the needs of individuals as a result of the ways in which society and space are organised and developed. Currently, the Government of Canada is moving towards delivering programs and information over the Internet, and to that end, the Government-on-Line (GoL) program (Treasury Board Canada 2003) was established in 1998 to ensure that all Canadians can get timely, more affordable and usable information such as maps, statistical information, tax forms and health information, to increase their chances of finding employment and to facilitate their full participation in the emerging knowledge-based economy. It has also promised to 'increase support for the development of new technologies to assist Canadians with disabilities.' In this spirit, the Mapping Services Branch (MSB) of Natural Resources Canada initiated a tactile mapping project in 1998, now known as the Government on Line--Information and Services for Persons with Disabilities Cluster--Mapping for the Visually Impaired Project (Government of Canada 2003).

When the MSB investigated the situation in Canada, it found that there were very few tactile maps available for the blind and therefore began further research in this area, focusing on tactile maps for education, audio-tactile maps for navigation and the addition of technologies that will enhance their delivery (Siekierska et al. 2001). Since the project is working within the GoL framework, the focus has been placed on the use of the Internet as a means of map production and distribution. We believe this research project to be unique in Canada, as no other agency provides online access to and distribution of tactile maps on the Internet. While not specifically related to the development of tactile and audio-tactile maps, the issue of accessibility to the Internet by blind and visually impaired users is an important part of development efforts. As a step towards ensuring that the services and information provided by the project are available to all users, a partnership had been established with Industry Canada, whose purpose is to leverage efforts currently being made by Industry Canada's Community Access Program (Industry Canada 2003a) and Web-4-All initiative (Industry Canada 2003b). The Community Access Program aims to provide Canadians with affordable public access to the Internet and the skills needed to use it effectively.

The main purpose of this technical paper is to inform readers about the initiation of the interdepartmental tactile mapping project (carried out within the Government on Line, Information and Services for People with Disabilities Program), to share the results obtained thus far and to obtain feedback from others working in similar fields. It is hoped that cooperation established through knowledge sharing may lead, in the long term, to a more systematic and theoretically sound approach in the development of tactile and audio-tactile maps, as well as the user interfaces needed to read such maps in the Internet environment.

Cartography and Visually Impaired Map Users

Geographic/cartographic perspectives As a discipline, geography has paid relatively little attention to disabled people with regards to the nature of the environments they occupy (Golledge 1993). …

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