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tactile maps

Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award will help support our new on-demand mapping software for the blind

Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award Seal 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 adaptations@lighthouse-sf.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.

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:

Maps, at Your Fingertips: The LightHouse Store Announces On-Demand Tactile Maps

Have you ever wanted to get to know the lay of the land before heading to a new city, campus or neighborhood? Wish you could just generate a quick, raised-line aerial map the way others do with Google? Whether it’s the blocks around your kid’s new school or a conference in San Diego — it’s not always easy to get a quick overview of a neighborhood before visiting. And unfortunately, mobile web mapping systems like Google or Apple Maps tend to fall short for blind users when it comes to getting the “big picture.”

Thanks to a collaboration between the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute and our Media and Accessible Design Lab, we’re pleased to announce that you can now order on-demand tactile maps of the area of your choosing for just $19 (plus shipping and handling) from our Adaptations Store. The tactile street maps depict the area around a user-specified address or intersection, using raised lines along with a circle marking the point of interest in the center of the map. Braille and large print labels indicate street names and other critical area information like cardinal directions, scale, and main streets. For those who are new to tactile maps, this is a great way to get started with this invaluable, always dependable tool for blind and low vision travelers. And for O&M teachers, or those learning how to travel with a dog or cane, this new instant service will make a tremendous difference.

To order a map, just call our product specialists at the Adaptations Store at 1-888-400-8933 and specify the destination of the map you’re interested in. Within two business days we’ll place your order, ship it or make it available for pick up at the store.

What’s in the package?

  • 3 signature Tactile and ink-printed Maps, generated by the MAD Lab at LightHouse for the Blind, of the area surrounding your point of interest: printed at simple, moderate and dense map scale ratios
  • A tactile map key
  • An explainer page
  • All materials are printed on 11” X 11.5” sheets of embossed paper and include ink / large print labels in addition to braille

Never used a tactile map before? Stop by the Adaptations Store in person and take a look at our pre-printed maps of the area around LightHouse Headquarters at 1155 Market St. We’ll help you get a feel for using tactile maps and you can even take a pre-printed tactile map with you for $19.

Our Burning Man Maps for the Blind are Back

Burning Man has ten tenets — perhaps the first and foremost being “radical inclusion”. On their website, the first principle reads, “Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.”

It’s a philosophy that we share at LightHouse, and one that led MAD Lab designer and longtime Burner Julie Sadlier to debut a one-of-a-kind tactile Burning Man map two years ago. In other words, a Burning Man map for blind people .

This year, we’ve updated and improved the hybrid tactile-visual map for Burning Man 2017. Thanks to the business loans we got, we were able to complete the maps without a problem. The maps, with updated art placement, will be available at several locations in Black Rock City, including the Playa Information Booth, Mobility Camp and the CBT Project (at 7 and Fire), and here at the LightHouse headquarters starting August 23. To pre-order a map, contact our Adaptations Store at 1-888-400-8933 or adaptations@lighthouse-sf.org.

Calling it “awesome, no matter your level of sight,” The Atlantic’s CityLab aptly pointed out that you don’t have to be blind to use our map. Complete with braille, visual, and tactile representations of the event’s streets, information booths, first aid tents, restrooms, bus stops, camping, parking, and notable attractions such as artwork, Mobility Camp, The Temple and of course, The Man, the map is a great tool for anybody getting to know the festival – and one that is equally accessible to those with no vision. Now that’s radical inclusivity.

The map’s creator Julie Sadlier, said the response at Black Rock City over the last two years has been incredible, so much so that the leader of Mobility Camp, “Rat Lady”, contacted her way back in February to make sure she would be designing an updated version of the map for 2017.

“I had multiple people coming to my camp, even when I wasn’t there people were dropping off brailled business cards so they could talk more about the map,” says Julie. “Someone at Playa Information dismantled one copy and hung it on the wall to spread the word.”

It’s this type of openness and inclusivity, we’ve found, that opens unexpected doors and embodies the spirit of the LightHouse for the Blind as well as Burning Man. We look forward to printing even more than last year and to hearing your stories when you get back from the playa!

To get a copy of our map, call the Adaptations Store (1155 Market St., 10th Floor, San Francisco) at 1-888-400-8933, or email adaptations@lighthouse-sf.org. If you or your organization would like to design a fully accessible, inclusive map of, well – anything – email madlab@lighthouse-sf.org.

LightHouse’s MAD Lab Receives the Robert S. Bray Award for Innovation in Tactile Graphics

Last week, the American Council of the Blind awarded LightHouse’s Media and Accessible Design Lab with the Robert S. Bray Award for Media Excellence at the annual conference in Reno, Nevada. The Bray Award is given to a person or a company that has improved communication technology or devices, or expanded access to such devices for all blind people.

Last year, the award was presented to LightHouse partner Apple for the company’s strides in accessibility and continued dedication to inclusion-based innovation for blind users.

MAD Lab Alternative Media Specialist Frank Welte attended the conference and accepted the award on behalf of MAD Lab.

“It was exciting to see MAD Lab recognized at a national level for the cutting edge work we’re doing in making high quality tactile graphics available to the blind community,” he says. “It’s an indication that we’re coming into a golden age in the creation of and availability of tactile graphics that are accessible to blind people. We’re seeing that greater attention is being paid to effective use of tactile graphics to communicate visual information to blind people.”

The MAD Lab has earned a reputation for producing fabulous tactile media of all kinds, including raised line drawings, tactile graphics and tactile maps like this one for Alcatraz or this one of California, and other GGRNA maps – for everything from Burning Man to BART. We are thrilled to be on the forefront of tactile innovation, education and literacy.

For a rate sheet or an informal quote on a business project, contact MADLab@lighthouse-sf.org or call 415-694-7349.

October 6 Through 8: Explore Street Art and Design Along San Francisco’s Market Street with the LightHouse’s New Free Tactile Map

LightHouse for the Blind has teamed up with a special partner to introduce an accessible element into one of San Francisco’s most intriguing new design-focused city art projects: introducing the Market Street Prototyping Festival Tactile Map. Join us October 7th at 5 p.m. to learn to use the map, and then go out and explore Market Street (RSVP to solsen@lighthouse-sf.org).

Between Thursday, October 6th and Sunday, October 8th, Market Street will be transformed. Imagine installations all along the wide sidewalks and broad pathways, each with its own engaging purpose – whether it’s to pique your interest, make you laugh, calm you down, or just plain fascinate. That’s the job of the Market Street Prototyping Festival, an annual fair which takes over more than a mile of San Francisco’s iconic main drag each year to give pedestrians something a whole new glimpse into the potential of engaging design. Produced by San Francisco Planning and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the sidewalks between 7th Street and the Embarcadero will be filled with temporary installations ranging from performance spaces and relaxation zones to dynamic art pieces and more.

Market Street map, large print version

Our free map, which covers three festival districts – Central Market, Retail Heart, and Embarcadero – shows, through tactile lines and symbols, all the different attractions of the festival. The maps are made with tactile, braille, high-contrast ink print, and large print text in order to be universally accessible.

To get a free copy of our map, email Esmeralda Soto at esoto@lighthouse-sf.org.

As part of the weekend, our community services team will also be hosting map orientations and walking explorations of the festival for those 18 years and older. These tours will help blind and low vision individuals get acquainted with our map standards and develop a comfort level with using our maps as an effective wayfinding tool.

To sign up to explore the new Market Street art and design installations with the LightHouse, email Serena Olsen at solsen@lighthouse-sf.org.

More about the Market Street Prototyping Festival:

Established in 2015, the Market Street Prototyping Festival (MSPF) is using community-led design to make Market Street more a vibrant and engaging destination for the people that live, work and play along its path. An equal partnership between Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the San Francisco Planning Department, the Prototyping Festival was born out of their shared desire to make Market Street a more vibrant, connected destination; one that brings together different people, communities, and neighborhoods.

This year, over 100 local citizens and organizations submitted ideas for how to improve Market Street’s street life. Thirty of these ideas were selected to become temporary design installations (prototypes), which are breathing newfound joy into Market Street during this three-day festival. After the festival, several prototypes will be further considered for permanent installation under the city’s Better Market Street initiative.

This festival is more than public art; it’s a new way of thinking about urban design. These ideas will help shape the future of this legendary street, and set a model for how our city engages the community in the civic process.

Join the LightHouse to take in the festival October 6, 7 and 8. Email esoto@lighthouse-sf.org for more info.

Feel the Burn: Our Blind Burning Man Maps are Back

Imagine wandering the Nevada desert, amid the dust storms, all-night parties, and mind-boggling art of Black Rock City; now imagine doing it on your own and with no eyesight at all. Here at the LightHouse for the Blind, we are more than proud to make that dream entirely possible.

Last year, motivated by some of our very own adventurers here at LightHouse, we took it upon ourselves to design something brand new: a Burning Man map for blind people. A year later, we’re proud to announce that we’ve updated and improved the hybrid tactile-visual map for Burning Man 2016, and will make them available not only in Black Rock City, but also here at the LightHouse in downtown San Francisco starting August 22. To get one in advance of the event, email adaptations@lighthouse-sf.org.

tactile map showing overview of Black Rock CityCalling it “awesome, no matter you level of sight,” The Atlantic’s CityLab aptly pointed out that you don’t have to be blind to use our map. Complete with braille, visual, and tactile representations of the event’s streets, information booths, first aid tents, restrooms, bus stops, camping, parking, and notable attractions such as artwork, Mobility Camp, The Temple and of course, The Man, the map is a great tool for anybody getting to know the festival – and one that is equally accessible to those with no vision. Now that’s inclusivity.

After last year’s burn, we caught up with map creator Julie Sadlier, who is part of LightHouse’s MAD Lab (Media and Accessible Design Laboratory). She said the response at Black Rock City was awesome.

“I had multiple people coming to my camp, even when I wasn’t there people were dropping off brailled business cards so they could talk more about the map. Someone at Playa Information dismantled one copy and hung it on the wall to spread the word. They were delivered to Playa Information, Mobility Camp, our camp (Love Potion) had one, and I also gave one to the Black Rock Lending Library.”
lsit of street names with braille lettersIt’s precisely this type of radical inclusion, we’ve found, that opens unexpected doors and embodies the spirit of the LightHouse for the Blind as well as Burning Man. One member of Julie’s camp last year found himself stuck in a dust storm, taking refuge only to end up sitting at a bar next to a blind man he’d never met before. Without hesitation he pulled out of his pocket a souvenir: a little vile, embossed with braille, a signature of their camp. The man recognized the letters immediately and thus, a connection was made.

This year, our map is not only updated with new artwork sites (drawn from a combination of official Burning Man materials and the official unofficial BM Google map), but features a new logo inspired by  the 2016-specific theme of “Da Vinci’s Workshop.” We look forward to printing even more than last year, and to hearing your stories when you get back from the playa!

To get a copy of our map, call the Adaptations Technology Store (1155 Market St., 10th Floor, San Francisco) at 1-888-400-8933, or email adaptations@lighthouse-sf.org. If you or your organization would like to design a fully accessible, inclusive map of, well – anything – email madlab@lighthouse-sf.org.

LightHouse Has a New Digital Printer That Will Create the Next Generation of Tactile Maps and Signage

PHOTO: Naomi Rosenberg (Designer, Accessible Media Specialist), BJ Epstein (Project Manager, MADLab) and Julie Sadlier (Designer, Accessible Media Specialist) stand next to the new UV flatbed printer holding examples of newly printed tactile maps and signage.

The LightHouse, through MADLab, has earned a reputation for producing fabulous tactile maps of all kinds for clients as diverse as South by Southwest, where we created maps of the Austin Convention Center for blind attendees to transit systems such as the Bay Area’s BART system and the City of Calgary, Canada’s Transit system. Up until now, these maps were printed on paper with its limited shelf life. But we wanted to be able to produce durable, physically long-lasting, braille and tactile maps and ADA signage for museums, amusement parks, trailheads and more.

tactile map

PHOTO: Tactile street map of LightHouse’s new location

Enter our new UV flatbed printer. It’s essentially an inkjet printer that prints melted plastic, accreting layer on top of layer, until the final, tactile image is built up. The new printer can print onto a range of materials including wood and metal.

Among the projects we’ve used it for are mid-Market tactile maps that cover the location of our new headquarters building (see photo, above). We’ve produced maps for the Rosen Plaza Hotel in Orlando for the International Deaf Blind Exposition, we’ve created a variety of ADA signage and we’ve honored our significant donors with acrylic panels that are placed on the walls of our soaring three-level staircase.



PHOTO: A photo of one of the panels of our donor appreciation wall, with our staircase and a view of City Hall prominent in the background.

MADLab Project Manager BJ Epstein told us, “The DCS is a game changer for us, and for the blind and low vision community. Not only can we now produce accessible signage, but also mountable tactile maps. Because of the unique ability to print both visual and tactile elements in one machine, our clients will be able to provide an inclusive experience to their guests, no matter what their level of sight may be. Our expertise at designing for the blind community was developed on our paper maps. Now, we are translating that expertise to more permanent and durable media.

“These maps can be used indoors or outdoors. They are cleanable; a bonus for something that will get touched a lot. And not only are they useful, but they are beautiful objects to touch and to see. We are so excited to be able to offer this amazing product to our clients.”

Frank Welte – A Journey from Computer Programming to Braille Mastery

The following is one in a monthly series featuring the extraordinary people who make up the LightHouse staff.

“As we move into our new headquarters office, the LightHouse is going through a time of amazing growth and community partnership building, but our core services are as important as ever: helping people who are blind or have low vision live full and successful lives,” Frank Welte tells us. Frank, who is blind, is officially the LightHouse Information and Referral Specialist, but his job has grown over time to match his vast skillset.

“Before coming to the LightHouse, I worked as a mainframe computer programmer and performed website user testing for accessibility. As someone who is blind, I was able to lend my technology skills and blindness skills to help for-profits meet the needs of their blind constituents and customers.”

In 2007, Frank’s personal interests started to change. “I wanted to help more blind people achieve the kind of personal growth that I achieved, so I left the for-profit world and worked at the Vista Center for the Blind and the LightHouse for the Blind part-time. Later, I started working at the California Council of the Blind (CCB) as their Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs.”

In May 2011, Frank became a full-time LightHouse staffer, sharing his time between fielding the many calls and questions we get about resources for people who are blind or have low vision, and working on LightHouse’s Tactile Strip Map project for MUNI, BART and CalTrain.

“The Strip Maps are particularly exciting because tactile maps for the blind are just getting traction, and LightHouse is an early adopter and creator of tactile maps,” Frank told us. “I love applying my professional and real world experience to the strip map and tactile graphic process, ensuring the tactile work we produce is beautiful and useful. Tactile graphics is a growing field. For years, people mistakenly believed that tactile representations of information, like maps and graphs, were not useful to the blind—that we couldn’t learn from tactile graphics. However, LightHouse has learned that the ‘issue’ wasn’t in blind people’s abilities to read tactile graphics; rather, the tactile graphics were poorly designed and created.”

Creating tactile representations of print materials requires outside-the-box thinking and a fair amount of artistry. LightHouse also integrates many forms of media, from tactile and high contrast print, to talking smart pens and voice-eye apps. Frank works with his colleagues to ensure that their creations feel lovely and are highly usable. “It’s such a new field, LightHouse is actually creating industry standards for tactile graphic design. We are working on STEM models for blind students, maps of international transit systems and music venues, and tactile designs for the National Park Services, just to name a few projects.”

Frank’s job has evolved over the years. “Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of braille editing and proofreading, and I’ve been designing and editing tactile graphics and maps with my coworkers. I’m also completing my National Library Service (NLS) braille certification, which will round out my professional development in braille transcription and proofreading.

“[Moving into] our new building is an exciting opportunity for LightHouse to grow our Access to Information Services Department, enabling us to push the envelope further with cutting edge technologies.” Frank continues, “But our new building isn’t just about braille and tactile graphic production. At the new LightHouse we’ll be able to teach a larger number of students the blindness skills they need to thrive. Our store, Adaptations, will be larger and feature hands-on demonstrations for people to try items before they buy them. (A rarity for those who purchase accessible technology). Our Community Services Department will have more programming for a larger variety of students, from youth to seniors and everyone in between. Basically, we’ll be growing and improving our already robust programming to meet and exceed the needs of our community.”

An active member of the blindness community, Frank’s time outside of work is split between his position as a board member for CCB, serving as the President of the local San Francisco chapter of CCB, and too many other blindness initiatives to list. But he does save time for fun and recreation. “Lately, my wife and I have been planning our next vacation. We are looking to visit my wife’s family in Italy, but we also want to explore Hawaii and Alaska. On the weekends, we walk our dogs along the beach over in the East Bay, and daydream about our many future trips.”

If you are interested in having something transcribed into braille or another format, or would like to learn more about tactile graphics, contact Access to Information Services today at MADLab@lighthouse-sf.org.

Learn and Teach Tactile Map Reading Skills with our New Training Guides

Tactile Maps Training Book Now Available from the Adaptations Store
At LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco, we are a leading provider of tactile maps – taking visual or graphical information and conveying it through raised line and textural media, making it possible to access the same information as others, without your eyes.

To fully benefit from these maps, though, one must understand “mental mapping.” The ability to create mental maps in your head comes to many naturally, but like most valuable pursuits, requires practice and teaching. To that end we’ve developed the Tactile Maps Training Book, built on best practices and tailored around our maps, which serves as a teaching aid to help teachers unlock their student’s potential.

Start in the Classroom and Move to the Real World
Through hands-on exercises and activities, students will use these books to learn strategies for reading tactile graphics and understanding our incredibly informative maps. We provide an orientation to tactile map symbols, symbol recognition exercises and a variety of exercises around transit, campus and floor plan maps.

Also available, the Tactile Maps Training Book: Audio Supplement. Intended for use with any of the Audio-Tactile Maps created by the LightHouse, this guide introduces readers to the Smartpen – how it works and how to use it, followed by a series of map exercises.

Tactile Maps Training Book
Large print and braille, 53 pages: $50.00

Tactile Maps Training Book: Audio Supplement
Large print and braille (Smartpen enabled), 14 pages: $25.00

To Order: Contact the Adaptations store at 1-888-400-8933 or visit us at 214 Van Ness Ave. in San Francisco.

If you are interested in tactile maps or graphics, please contact Access to Information Services today at MADLab@lighthouse-sf.org.