On Sunday we accepted a national award for a new technology that’s got the blindness community talking – and walking.
The National Federation of the Blind distributed six Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards for accomplishment and innovation in the field of blindness this week – including to outdoor program Ski for Light, Navajo braille creator Carol Green, and Danish startup Be My Eyes. Among them was LightHouse’s mapping project known as TMAP (Tactile Map Automated Production).
“Blind people profit from access to maps as much if not more than their sighted friends and family,” said LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin, himself blind and an avid map user. “That’s the reason the LightHouse is commercializing accessible, automated map production.”
TMAP was developed by LightHouse in partnership with the Smith Kettlewell Eye Research Institute over the past year and is the culmination of many years of iterating and testing. The system allows a blind user to type in a point of interest, auto-generate a specially formatted map file, and print a tactile (raised line, braille) map on an embosser in one simple workflow.
“The internet gave sighted people the ability to generate a street map of anyplace they wanted,” said Dr. Joshua Miele, the blind scientist at the Smith Kettlewell Eye Research Institute who conceived TMAP. “I wanted blind people to have that, too.” Lighthouse’s T-Map project stems from original work conducted by Dr. Miele in 2011 and has been transformed into a consumer-facing service by the LightHouse’s Media and Accessible Design Lab.
Those interested in obtaining tactile maps for their locality can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and will soon be able to purchase the maps through an online store.
The Bolotin award was presented during the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind, the largest gathering of blind people held anywhere worldwide. LightHouse’s Senior Director of Programs Scott Blanks accepted the $5,000 honor.
“At the LightHouse, we are passionate about connectivity, community, and the power of autonomy through access to information,” says Blanks. “Tactile street maps embody these tenets, giving each blind person the agency to decide how they wish to interact with the world around them. When a person can touch, or look at, a top-down streetscape, so much can be unlocked: the orientation of an intersection, directionality of streets, and a better overall understanding of how a neighborhood fits together. With TMAP, we are just getting started.”
About the National Federation of the Blind’s Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award
The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards are presented annually by the National Federation of the Blind with support from the Santa Barbara Foundation to recognize outstanding individual and organizational achievements in the blindness field. For more information, go to nfb.org.