View Full Version : Unique Challenge: Map for the blind

09-09-2012, 01:58 PM
I have been tasked to do a map for the vision-impaired. At first I thought, "simple, I'll just place locale names (text) spatially, and they can print it out in braille."

But as I ask questions, I realize they want to know what the terrain is like - that's way harder to do. At this point, I am thinking making a map similar to how pictures were done back in 'the old days' with dot-matrix printers: use text to 'draw' the map.

Has anyone ever tried this? Anyone have any good ideas?

09-09-2012, 08:04 PM
I DO remember seeing a map where the text of varying thickness or darkness was used to create a map/image...but I can not remember where or what. I am not sure that would suffice for your project as they might not be able to distinguish the changes in the text. You might want to find out just WHAT impairments you are to make allowances for.

If you want to convey terrain by touch, I believe that there are papers and inks that can be used to layer an image with each layer having a certain noticeable thickness to it. Again going from (faulty) memory here....better to ask Gameprinter about that. And the last method that I can think of is 3D printing.....used in some industries like Architecture and Model creation.

As for the colors...I wouldn't think that using too much shading would be a good idea....use mostly solids and none too similar to another...

Hope that helps some

09-10-2012, 04:34 PM
Interesting challenge. Perhaps you could carve it (with block printing tools or somesuch) into a thick piece of mat board. I'd also suggest attaching it to a sturdy backing to prevent warping, and sealing it with a heavy varnish that can be washed. I've never tried anything of the sort, so I'm not positive the materials will hold up, but it might be worth a test run, at the least.

Another possible method--similar to Korash's idea--might be to actually cut the mat board (or wood veneer, etc) on topographical lines and build up the layers in a three-dimensional form (example (http://stevewilkinsonmaker.com/relief-maps/)).

You can mix different materials (sand, small beads, etc) into acrylic paint to create unique textures. There are some pre-textured paints and gessoes available, too... art or craft-grade in an art store, home-grade in places like home depot.

Good luck with the project. =)

09-10-2012, 04:48 PM
Could you use materials with different textures to represent the different terrains? Berber carpet for wooded areas; something astroturf-like for open areas. Roads could be raised lines.

What is the scale of this map?

09-10-2012, 06:05 PM
Do a google search on "tactile maps". That should bring up a lot of information that may help you.

I investigated them briefly a while back and I used one form of them in a game I ran once as a puzzle, although the map in question only gave basic directions.

09-11-2012, 03:54 PM
Makes me think of those old plastic 3d terrain maps that had real humps for hills, mountains and stuff.

Look up "Raised relief bumpy vinyl maps".

09-12-2012, 06:53 PM
Problem is, this has to be over the internet. I could have easily done a texture-based map with a trip to the crafts store.

I had planned to do it all in text, so that when they printed out in braille they would be able to 'feel' where the different areas/regions/locales/settlements were in relation to each other. Now I found out they do not have a braille printer (they are very expensive), so I have to somehow be able to interpret this into a speech emulator (which is how they read forums). I've already tried the text-based approach. The emulator kept the font sizing (which was great - not even sure how it did that), but it loses all the spacing (and without the spacing, the distances get all messed up). I may have to try spacing the map text in some other way (like asterisks).

If I can figure this out, I may be the world's first 'cartographer for the blind'.

Which is great, because my art sucks. :P

09-12-2012, 07:23 PM
I really don't know how the speech emulators work and how text is browsed. Also I'm not blind. But can you browse a block of text more freely than left to right, and line by line?

Because you could just go with the text map with a letter (for terrain type) and number (for elevation). ie:


Or the something similar. Not being able to print it out means the tactile bit isn't an option at all.

* (G being grassland, F being forest, R being a road and H being a house)

09-12-2012, 10:22 PM
It occurs to me that a plotter that could extrude a thick plastic ink could work. Maybe based on a modified Makerbot.

You could them print out raised patterns. If the "ink" were clear and you were careful about registration, you could texturize a graphical map.

I do recall seeing something on the OpenStreetMap page about making maps for the blind. I believe they used some form of etching to generate relief.

PS: Yes, OSM has a page on their wiki about tactile maps: http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Tactile_map

09-12-2012, 10:33 PM
I don't know anything about speech emulators either, but if it has to be over the internet, what about creating some type of flash-based webpage map with a system of mouse-over labels that play audio? Probably work best with a touchscreen device. I also don't know anything about flash website building, but you might ask a site designer if it's a possibility.

09-12-2012, 10:59 PM
I don't know anything about speech emulators either, but if it has to be over the internet, what about creating some type of flash-based webpage map with a system of mouse-over labels that play audio? Probably work best with a touchscreen device. I also don't know anything about flash website building, but you might ask a site designer if it's a possibility.

My understanding is that Flash is pretty much unusable in terms of non-visual accessibility. I'd also expect blind computer users would be more likely to use keyboards or voice recognition than mice so they would be less likely to have a good sense of mouse position. Mice are also rather imprecise for that sort of thing. As you said, a touch interface would be better, or a digitizer. A digitizer with a haptic feedback stylus could work very well.

09-13-2012, 08:19 AM
Interesting concepts here. I think the first thing you need to know is the bounds for what is acceptable for the format. Are they 100% blind or visually impaired such that if big enough they could see enough to make it out. Also could they see enough so that you could color code it in some way. If 100% blind then whats the full set of options for a blind person on the end of the internet. I dont know if text to speech is the only one and what web interface is there for haptic devices ? I have never heard of one. Since sound is common and haptic is extremely rare then maybe a map covered with sound cues would be the best option. But you need to know what limits you have before you can decide how best to implement a map like that.

09-13-2012, 10:27 AM
Use your colors and font types to change terrain.

next to next to plains next to next to

(starting point) to the East is the town of Billingswop which sits on the edge of the swamps that are bordered by the Shorn Hills nestled along the CATASTROPHE MOUNTAINS. To the South is the Lake of swans with the River of dreams that leads to the Ocean.

Then I think the text to speech emulator will pick up on the text changes and give them the auditory version of the text clues.


09-14-2012, 02:32 AM
Hmm, maybe you might want to consider solving this in another way. If it's not for print in braille and more for a speech unit then the whole thing shouldn't be visual at all. We all might be hung up on that visual crutch just because we can see.

How about making it like a music box where flat land has one sound, hills go up a note, valleys down and mountains would escalate to a higher pitch entirely. Imagine a soundtrack for topography.