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accessible maps

How TMAP Reinvigorated How Angela Reynolds Serves Students

How TMAP Reinvigorated How Angela Reynolds Serves Students

Since 2016, LightHouse’s Media and Accessible Design Laboratory (MAD Lab) has been continuously developing their innovative Tactile Maps Automated Production (TMAP) software and perfecting its outcoming product. TMAP, a tool to generate tactile street maps, has grown since its early days and has become a widely used Orientation & Mobility (O&M) tool among O&M instructors and blind and low vision travelers. The expansion of TMAP is due to MAD Lab’s reliable presence at O&M conferences, webinars, and various blindness podcasts and presentations.

We are proud to announce that TMAP has made its way across the world! We chatted with O&M instructor Angela Reynolds of the Orientation and Mobility Association of Australia (OMAA) about her experience with TMAP.

How did you discover TMAP?

“I heard Greg Kehret [Director of LightHouse’s MAD Lab] talking about TMAP on Kassy Maloney’s podcast ‘A Step Forward’ in February this year. I thought it sounded like a great practical resource and immediately created an account and started experimenting with it.”

What was your experience/relationship with tactile maps before discovering TMAP?

“I commenced working as an O&M in 2001. Early in my career, I had access to PIAF [Pictures in a Flash] machines in the offices I worked in so I would create tactile maps when required. For the last 15 years I’ve worked in a country region in northeast Victoria, and I’ve worked from home, our office is a three-hour drive away. This means I don’t have a PIAF machine or any type of embosser at my disposal. If I need a tactile map, I have to be very organized and create and order the map at least three weeks in advance to ensure I had it in time for the O&M session. At times, I have to admit, it was difficult to be this organized or predict the need for a map this far ahead. Sometimes during a session, it would become clear that a client would benefit from a map to increase their spatial understanding of a travel route, but I simply couldn’t get the map created in time for the next session.

“To address these gaps, I crafted my own maps. I used a variety of materials to do this such as cardboard strips pasted onto cardboard to create street maps. Often clients would assist by creating the braille labels so it would be a collaborative process. Other times I’d create a quick map when we were on the go during an O&M session by using a magnetic board and magnetic strips and symbols that I’d created, often embellished with Wiki Stix, foam stick on symbols and tactile dots. I’ve made maps out of lollies [candy] with children and larger street maps out of cut out pieces of wood, sandpaper and felt.

“I think maps are so important to develop spatial understanding so people can start to create a mental map of the areas they’re travelling through, so I pursued many options to create maps, however it was time-consuming because of how long it took to create a map.”

How has having a TMAP account affected your work?

“I’ve been so excited to discover TMAP! It has filled some major barriers that I was experiencing with my capacity to provide good quality and timely maps to clients. I’m very impressed with how easy it is to use, the ability to set a scale to provide a big picture map or a more detailed smaller view of an area, the north compass rose, the key and the embedded braille, braille, did I mention braille?! The braille is a major game changer. The other aspect of TMAP to create tactile maps is how quickly I can create a map, it’s so fast and I can quickly download it to my computer and email it through to another staff member and request them to put it through the PIAF machine for me.

“Since I’ve had access to TMAP is has reinvigorated my passion for tactile maps. It’s also resulted in me revisiting and thinking about the development of foundational O&M skills and how to teach tactile mapping skills to both children and adults. Map reading is a learnt skill, and the skills of tactile mapping are learnt in a graded and methodical way.  Even with the emergence of GPS technology there remains a strong need for tactile maps to increase spatial skill development, mental mapping and to use as a tool for enhanced and accessible learning of travel routes and environments.

“Due to the maps being sourced via Open Street Maps I find that the resulting maps are accurate and can really add value to the development of the conceptual understanding of the shapes of roads. And the TMAP software is working well in Australia and the fact that it’s free is also so exciting.”

How have your clients responded to working with TMAP?

“I have been providing services to a lady for a number of years on and off. She lost her vision due to retinoblastoma when she was 17 months old. She is an avid map lover and often requests maps from me so she can increase her spatial understanding of the areas she travels. Prior to TMAP, I had been crafting cardboard street maps and trying to put them together to create a big picture of the two towns she travels in regularly. Each map took me about 2 hours to make and there were issues with scale when we put them together. I am no cartographer! She was doing the braille labels and we’d stick them on together. Ultimately, I couldn’t keep up with her requests for maps, she wanted more, and I didn’t have enough time in my day to make the maps. This year when I discovered TMAP I was able to pump out multiple tactile maps for her so quickly and we spent several hours excitedly going over the maps together. This is also the other aspect that I really love about TMAP tactile maps, is the ability to sit down and share the experience of reading and looking at a map. She had the Braille version, and I had the text version and we read the map together in a really natural way. It felt accessible to both of us. Through TMAP, she learned that the street she has lived on for 25 years had a pronounced curve, it was curved like the shape of a horseshoe or the print letter U. She had always thought her street was straight.”

Since LightHouse chatted with Angela, she presented a paper at the Orientation & Mobility Association of Australasia online Symposium in Australia back in September. Our MAD Lab director, Greg Kehret, joined Angela for a joint presentation about TMAP. There has been a very positive response following the presentation, and several more O&Ms in Australia have created their own TMAP accounts and are starting to experiment and create tactile maps for their clients, as well. Nothing fills our hearts and fuels our ambition and dedication more than hearing feedback like Angela’s. LightHouse is thrilled to see MAD Lab’s services are vastly expanding and positively changing the lives of blind and low vision individuals worldwide. “I often highly recommend TMAP to other O&M’s,” Angela tells us.

Don’t have a local embosser but still want TMAPs for you or your students? No problem. LightHouse can produce the maps and mail them to you. Order online at Adaptations.org or call 1-888-400-8933.

Suez Canal Maps: Where was the Ever Given stuck and what is the main alternative route?

Suez Canal Maps: Where was the Ever Given stuck and what is the main alternative route?

two maps of suez canal, detail of Egypt and route through Asia, Africa, Europe

Tactile map 1: Alternative route for shipping while Suez Canal blocked

Description: Tactile map of shipping route using Suez Canal and route around Cape of Good Hope. Routes connect Rotterdam, Netherlands to Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Additional information not on tactile graphic:

  • Using Suez Canal: 10,000 nautical miles, 18,520 km, 25.5 days (avg speed)
  • Around Cape of Good Hope, 13,500 nautical miles, 25,002 km, 34 days (avg speed)

Source: Suez Canal: Ships stuck in ‘traffic jam’ as salvage efforts continue, BBC.

Tactile map 2: Suez Canal, Egypt: Red Sea to Mediterranean Sea

Description: Tactile map of Suez Canal from Red Sea to Mediterranean Sea, showing location where Ever Given hit right bank of canal.

Source: Suez Canal: Owner of cargo ship blocking waterway apologises, BBC.

Related podcast: Tug Life: The story of the small boats helping reopen the Suez Canal.

Download Maps

ZIP folder contains files for producing 2 tactile maps on 8.5 x 11-inch paper:

  • PRNs for ViewPlus Columbia / Delta, APH PixBlaster, IRIE BrailleTrac / BrailleSheet;
  • PDFs for Swell, Microcapsule or PIAF;
  • Reference PDFs with corresponding large print text (not for tactile production).

Printing Instructions and Supported Embossers

How to unzip/uncompress: Windows 10, Windows 8.1, MacOS.

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New local tactile maps at Adaptations

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

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

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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