Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Traveling by Touch: How Useful Are Tactile Maps?

Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Traveling by Touch: How Useful Are Tactile Maps?

Article excerpt

Many of you who are reading this article are itinerant professionals. To do your job, you make daily use of your own car, public transportation, or perhaps a contracted car and driver. If you drive your own car, you probably have caches of maps in accessible places to help you plan your travel. In my car, the maps I use often are in the driver's side pocket, and the rarely used ones are nested in the glove compartment. If you are an aging baby boomer as I am, you may also keep a magnifier for reading maps. Mine is clamped on the driver's side visor, and occasionally when I drive over a bump in the road, I am startled by the magnifier dropping suddenly into my lap.

If you are blind or have low vision, your travel planning is somewhat different. Rather than reaching around your car for a road map, perhaps you plan your travel route with an electronic device that uses global positioning satellite (GPS) technology or with computer software for mapping; you may obtain phone directions or rely on a driver for route planning. If you live in a city and travel by subway or bus, you may even have a complete tactile map of the transit system as a transportation resource. In unusual situations, you may have a portable version of the tactile map that you can consult for information while traveling. The distinctive role of maps for blind travelers is the subject of Practice Perspectives this month. Following this introduction are descriptions of two projects in which tactile maps were developed to address the needs of travelers who are blind.

Before you read these pieces, however, consider how maps are used differently by people who are blind. In the absence of personal expertise on this topic, I contacted four adults who are professionals in the field of visual impairment and blindness and are also blind. I believed they could provide unique perspectives on map usage. They responded to my three questions with a rich variety of opinions and experiences. Eric Guillory, director of Youth Services at the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston; Daniel Kish, founder and chief executive officer of World Access for the Blind in Huntington Beach, California, and an orientation and mobility instructor; Mark Nelson, chief operating officer for the Foundation for Blind Children in Phoenix, Arizona; and Sandy Ruconich, assistive technology specialist at the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind and past president (2006-2008) of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, all spoke to me about their own experiences, which provide context for this Practice Perspectives feature. Their responses to my questions are described below, and their thoughtful comments are very much appreciated.

DO YOU USE TACTILE MAPS AS AN ADULT? IF SO, HOW?

Although Daniel, Eric, Mark, and Sandy all acknowledged that tactile maps were not often available to them as adults, they all had used them for specific purposes at some point in their lives. Mark uses tactile maps mainly for orientation at conferences and meetings as well as for consideration, with his administrative team, of the way space is used at the Foundation for Blind Children. Eric uses tactile maps mainly in his instructional role with children. He stated, "I don't employ them when learning travel routes and/or the layouts of buildings. I have already gained a good knowledge of cardinal directions and geographic relationships due to my previous exploration of tactile maps." Daniel reported that tactile maps are rarely available, recalling that he was disappointed on a visit to Disneyland to find that brailled information about the park was available for blind visitors, but the map provided to sighted visitors was not available in a tactile format. …

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