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See California Like Never Before: MAD Lab creates its largest low vision and tactile map yet

See California Like Never Before: MAD Lab creates its largest low vision and tactile map yet

Photo: A close up shows the raised tactile features and brights blues and greens of this accessible map of California.

In the era of Google, reading a map can be deceptively simple. The 664 miles from say, Redding to San Diego, can seem like a simple calculation of hours, minutes, or transit stops – but truly understanding a place’s geography is not so straightforward. That’s why our state’s most reputable sources for accessible education tapped LightHouse to create a map worthy of the institution: encompassing the mountains, rivers, desert expanses and the varied, beautiful patterns of California.

Maps give us the bigger picture, show us how the earth unfolds and inform us how to traverse it – all opportunities blind people crave equally with their sighted peers. Unfortunately, most maps are not accessible. But after months of work, LightHouse’s MAD Lab is proud to present a three-foot large print, braille and tactile map of the entire state of California. It is their biggest tactile map yet.

Commissioned by the State Braille and Talking Book Library in Sacramento, the map will be part of a temporary display at the California State Capitol Building in January. It will later be moved to its permanent home at the Braille and Talking Book Library in Sacramento.

The map is 40 inches tall and 34 inches wide and was printed in six individual sections that make up the completed map. It was printed on the LightHouse’s new UV flatbed printer. High contrast coloration and large print facilitate viewing for people with low vision, and a selection of tactile symbols and fill textures denote cities, rivers, lakes, mountains, forests and deserts.

The whole map of California.
The whole map of California.

The state map went through many iterations in the design process, partially because the MAD Lab designers were met with the challenge of creating background fill textures for lakes and forests that, when touched, didn’t compete with symbols for specific landmarks.

“We had to figure out how to create varied textures, so you can tell there are different features, but also fade into the background enough so mountains and rivers could be felt on top as distinct landforms,” says Designer and Accessible Media Specialist Julie Sadlier.

By scaling down the size of the texture, Julie says they were able to achieve this. The first full draft of the map was printed in early December. The LightHouse’st Frank Welte was the first blind person to see the map after it was assembled.

A close-up shot demonstrates some of the fill textures Julie speaks of, like the circular green texture indicating a forest.
A close-up shot demonstrates some of the fill textures Julie speaks of, like the circular green texture indicating a forest.

“I’m a California Native, so I’ve seen some tactile maps of the state before but this one was probably the biggest tactile map of California I’ve ever seen,” says Frank. “It was fun to explore parts of California with which I’m not familiar, like the Northeastern part.”

And though exploring California is a perk, the overarching goal of the display is to raise awareness about the work of the Braille and Talking Book Library and its role in braille literacy and services for the blind and low vision community.

“One of the hardest things in the network of libraries serving the blind is getting the word out about our work,” says Director of the library Mike Marlin. “We provide a free service, so this display is a really helpful outreach tool. It gets our work in front of legislators and the public.”

Frank too, hopes the map encourages more institutions and organizations to make tactile maps and other material available to their communities.

“I think it is wonderful for tactile graphics to be given high visibility, so that the general public can appreciate their value as we in the blind community already do,” he says.

MAD Lab is an important resource in collaborating with organizations to make these kinds of accessible tactile tools available. 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, and other GGRNA maps – for everything from Burning Man to BART.

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

Giving Voice: Michele Spitz supports LightHouse, extraordinary filmmakers, burgeoning artists and Superfest 2016

Giving Voice: Michele Spitz supports LightHouse, extraordinary filmmakers, burgeoning artists and Superfest 2016

Professional voiceover artist and lifelong patron of the arts Michele Spitz is dedicated to making the world more accessible to people with disabilities by providing her vocal talents to filmmakers, publishers, speaking venues and charitable organizations. Wherever Michele’s voice is, her heart is also: short and full length documentaries, feature films, children’s programming, museums, industrial videos, audio manuals and PSAs.

Michele is most passionate about her audio description work for the visually impaired — having voiced 37 films including documentary features. In addition to Michele’s audio description work, she also personally underwrites hundreds of patron attendance tickets, as well as artist interactive programs for the performing, visual and cultural arts world. This underwriting program serves: disabled, seniors, veterans and underserved communities.

Michele has also provided her voice for our Superfest International Disability Film Festival, as well as for our headquarters — hers is the voice you hear on our phone system’s recorded greeting!

In light of her unyielding support of LightHouse programs and the growing relevance of audio description as a force in media, Michele sat down with LightHouse’s Paul Blaney to discuss her passion for art and her unwavering support for those with disabilities.

LightHouse: Why is supporting artists with disabilities important to you?

Michele: Art is healing; we can all identify something in art that resonates within us. However, for the blind community, access to visual art can be challenging. It is my hope to ensure that visual art is appealing and accessible to everyone.

LightHouse: What drew you to LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired?

Michele: LightHouse for the Blind is leading the way for those with blindness or low vision and supports the quest to identify and build community. Through trailblazing programs, resources, guides and activities geared specifically for blind people, LightHouse reinforces the need for accessible and meaningful support.

LightHouse: What important message would you like to convey to those unfamiliar with artists with disabilities?

Michele: Living with a disability should not prevent one from accessing and appreciating art. It is my hope (through audio description and underwriting performing arts programming) to expand awareness of the blind community, so everyone can deepen their enjoyment of art.

LightHouse: How do you select your audio description projects?

Michele: I often ask myself: ‘What haven’t I covered? What can I do next to support people living with disabilities?’ I want to be involved with projects that raise awareness and connect people to their community. Often, it’s lack of exposure that prohibits people from understanding the nuances of the art world. It’s my job to break stereotypes and give people ample opportunities to explore for themselves the interplay between art and humanity.

LightHouse: What are your future plans for working with the disability community?

Michele: I will continue to pursue partnerships with artists who push the envelope in developing projects with and for the disability community. My goal is to forge long-lasting relationships reflective of my passion for the arts, my desire to heighten awareness and, in doing so, attract more people to the cause.

LightHouse: Thank you for chatting with us Michele!

You may read more about Michele’s work at womanofherword.com.

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