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accessible maps

New local tactile maps at Adaptations

Photo: Sarika Dagar

Our Mad Lab designers have been hard at work producing a set of new maps of our region. Never before have curious blind travelers had these tactile maps, and they can be acquired immediately from LightHouse’s Adaptations Store.

Here is a list of the available maps:

• San Francisco Bay Area Cities: Ever wonder where the heck Piedmont actually is? This map shows the major cities in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. $15

• San Francisco Bay Area Counties: This map shows the counties in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Now you can see, for example, why Contra Costa County is actually north of Albany. $15

• San Francisco Bay Area Highways: You’ve heard of highway 13, or 237, or 92. Now you can see exactly where they are and how they connect. This map shows the main highways of the greater San Francisco Bay Area. $20

• San Francisco Neighborhoods: Just where does the Western Addition end and the Richmond District begin? Now you can find out. This map shows the neighborhoods in the city of San Francisco. $15

• California: Sacramento is actually more north than people commonly think. This map shows the state of California and its major cities. $20

Each map comes with braille and large print labels and is available for pickup. Get yours today by visiting our Adaptations store on the 10th floor at LightHouse Headquarters, 1155 Market Street in San Francisco. Or for extra convenience, just phone in your order and we’ll mail it to you. For more information call Adaptations at 1-888-400-8933 or email our store staff at adaptations@lighthouse-sf.org.

Maps for the blind: How the MAD Lab is challenging designers’ hyper-visual assumptions

For the experienced blind traveler, obstacle avoidance is not the overwhelming part—that’s why we have canes, dog guide and blindness skills. The challenging part is getting familiar with the lay of the land in order to make the spontaneous choices of everyday life, like which quirky cafe to duck into or how to get to the canal everyone keeps telling you to wander along.

And if you’re a sighted traveler, it’s easy to take mapping tools for granted with GPS apps at your fingers. Most people don’t realize that blind people don’t have easy access to non-visual or ‘tactile’ maps. (You might be asking: what’s a tactile map? It’s pretty simple—it’s a map with raised lines and braille markers that you can feel.)

That’s why the LightHouse Media and Accessible Design Lab hosted a Maptime SF/Oakland meetup last month: to teach multidisciplinary designers about accessible methods to use when creating maps and encourage them to incorporate tactile information into their work.

Attendees came from a wide swath of industries and design disciplines. The MAD Lab team hosted designers from Apple, architects from Arup, graphic designers, transportation specialists, programmers, students in interactive design, occupational therapists, special ed teachers, ocean mapping specialists, and highly skilled cartographers.

After comparing and contrasting examples of different design methods and discussing their effectiveness, Maptimers used these precepts to make their own maps. The group also discussed Tactile Maps Automated Production, and how this automated mapping system is a game changer for tactile map production.

“There’s such a lack of tactile graphics in the world,” says MAD Lab Senior Designer Naomi Rosenberg. “The only way to increase tactile graphic production is to teach more people how to incorporate tactile information into their designs. Sharing our expertise in tactile graphics empowers specialists in other fields to step outside of their normal design process, and design better for their audience and underrepresented audiences.”

Photos from the workshop

Take a little tour of their design process below. And if you’re sighted, next time you walk down the street or hop on Google maps, start to consider the lack of non-visual information that is available to tell you how to get around. If you’re a designer, it might just change how you approach your own designs.

Workshops like this support the MAD Lab’s goal of making visual information accessible to people who are blind and visually impaired. Ready to get your hands on your own tactile map? We can quickly create an inexpensive personalized map for you centered on a square mile anywhere in the US – visit or call the Adaptations Store to order! Stop by  at 1155 Market St. or give our specialists a call at 1-888-400-8933.

Behind the Map: Starting over in a new city

In January, LightHouse started offering TMAP — on-demand tactile street maps — for order at our Adaptations Store (1-888-400-8933). We have been hearing some amazing stories about how our maps are being used, so we wanted to share them with our mapping community.

One month ago, Lia Jacobsen sat on a plane, nervous. She was moving to Ann Arbor, Michigan after living in Washington D.C. for 10 years. The prospect of learning a new city after all that time was, admittedly, a bit daunting.

On the tray table in front of her lay two TMAPs: one detailing the area around her new home in Ann Arbor, and another of the streets around the University of Michigan School of Social Work, where she was beginning a masters degree. Leah traced her hands along the raised lines of the map, determined to memorize the criss-crossing, partial grid system of her new town. She reviewed the braille street names using each map key, learning the quarter-mile radius map first, then working her way out to the more dense and complex 1.5-miles radius map.

The flight attendant paused at Lia’s row, and politely asked: “Excuse me, ma’am, would you like me to turn your light on?” The question struck Lia as a bit absurd. Why would a person need light to read a raised-line tactile map? She tried to be polite but some snark crept into her voice as she expressed her confusion. It wasn’t until this moment that she discovered that the maps were more than just embossed paper: the streets were printed in ink, as well.

A TMAP of the University of Michigan.
Image: A TMAP of the University of Michigan.

The humor of the situation helped dispel some of her nerves, and since arriving in Ann Arbor and completing several weeks of classes, Lia pretty much knows the lay of the land.  

“My TMAPs were hugely helpful because when I landed I already felt like I knew where I was,” she says. “It automatically made me feel much more comfortable because I knew what I was passing.”

On her first day on campus she caught a group of lost undergrads off-guard when she interjected and gave them directions to their building.  

“It’s about being more equal and having the freedom not to rely on other people,” she says. “I tend to explore no matter what, but it gives me a foundation and a starting point so I don’t feel totally lost. Feeling lost makes you just want to go home.”

Lia wishes she had had access to TMAP throughout her many years working on the Obama campaign, traveling far and wide as a member of the Peace Corps, traveling alone in Colombia, or as a kid growing up in Florida.  

“I never had tactile maps growing up,” she says. “My first time having a sort of tactile map, my O&M teacher took a piece of felt and put some velcro beads on it and made a makeshift map.”

She expects to use TMAPs much more as she pursues her masters in social work and hopefully heads back to D.C. to become a victim advocate for the FBI.

“I definitely plan on purchasing more TMAPs whenever I move next time and have been spreading the word about how much I love the TMAPs to all of my friends who are blind,” she says. “The task of learning a new community after being in the same place for a decade was daunting, and the maps I purchased were enormously helpful in my feeling oriented from day one.”

Get your TMAP today

To order a map, call our product specialists at 1-888-400-8933 and specify the street address of the map you’re interested in receiving. Within two business days we’ll ship you your map, or make it available for pick up at the Adaptations Store (1155 Market St., 10th Floor, San Francisco, CA).

What’s in the package?

  • You will receive 3 map versions printed at simple, moderate and dense map scale ratios
  • A tactile map key
  • An introductory page
  • All materials are printed on 11” X 11.5” sheets of embossed paper and include ink / large print labels in addition to braille

Learn more about the MAD Lab where these maps are produced.

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