A close up of the San Joaquin Transit District Tactile Maps, complete with talking pen.

San Joaquin RTD Introduces Accessible Transit Maps in Collaboration with LightHouse’s MAD Lab and CCBVI

Just last week, San Joaquin Regional Transit District (RTD) launched Talk to Me Maps, a set of audio and tactile maps of transit boarding areas, in hopes of increasing access to the local transit system for people who are blind and low vision.

With money from a state grant, San Joaquin RTD collaborated with Community Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CCBVI) and LightHouse’s Media and Accessible Design Lab to produce large map books that not only share details of the region’s major bus stations in braille, but can be read by a “smart pen.” When moved around the tactile map, the pen speaks to the user to audibly share information about the physical layout of each station and which buses are going where.

The program will be yet another tool in the toolbox for people who are blind or low vision to easily get around town on RTD. It’s a step toward independence and self-reliance for thousands of San Joaquin County residents who are blind or have low vision.

“I’m just unbelievably grateful,” says Joni Bauer, a mobility specialist at CCBVI and a board member at the San Joaquin Regional Transit District. “I’ve been around a long time, and none of this was in anybody’s vision 40 years ago. It’s really amazing.”

The “Talk To Me Maps,” as they’re known, have been in the works for a couple of years. Bauer had heard about our accessible maps for BART stations in the Bay Area, so she met with experts from our Media and Accessible Design Lab, who put their heads together to create the maps over the course of nine months.

“For those with low or no sight, taking steps into new areas requires a high degree of confidence and is often daunting,” says MAD Lab Director Greg Kehret. “Access to information about the streets and paths around public transportation hubs is exceptionally useful. One methodology that has proven useful are tactile maps.”

For braille readers, the talking aspect of the map is extra, but serves as a helpful tool for non-braille readers who are blind or have low vision. Manufactured by Oakland-based Livescribe, the pens include cameras that capture information from the books and share it out loud through a speaker. It’s just a matter of holding the pen at an angle over the book and tapping.

“Everyone at RTD is thrilled to work with our friends at CCBVI, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and our sister transit agencies to make life a little easier for those traveling throughout San Joaquin County,” says RTD CEO Donna DeMartino. “This program will make ‘The Places You Can Go on RTD!’ even more accessible than before.”

RTD Talk to Me Maps are available for checkout at multiple transit hubs in San Joaquin County, including:

Development of RTD Talk to Me Maps was a collaboration among the following: Community Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CCBVI) proposed the project. RTD Director Joni Bauer spearheaded the project. San Joaquin Regional Transit District developed and implemented the project. The LightHouse MAD Lab is available to produce similar maps for governments, transit districts, schools or any other place where tactile maps would help the blind traveler. Click here to learn more about our MAD Lab’s braille and accessible design services or contact our specialists at madlab@lighthouse-sf.org.

For additional information regarding Talk to Me Maps, including a video of a map in use, please visit www.sjRTD.com/TalktoMeMaps.

Check out this video to see the map in use:

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