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tactile maps

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

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

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

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.

Tactile Maps and Wayfinding Tools

Tactile Maps and Wayfinding Tools

The LightHouse has a diverse portfolio of tactile maps and wayfinding tools that includes clients such as UC Berkeley, Bay Area Rapid Transit, Music Festivals, and the Calgary Transit System,

If you’re considering a tactile map for your event or venue, contact MADLab@lighthouse-sf.org.

More information about tactile and talking maps:

Because of the visual nature of most information, people who are blind or have low vision cannot readily use the wealth of information provided in the environments for general information, wayfinding and safety. Tactile maps are highly effective at remediating these concerns.

Having created numerous tactile, audio-tactile, and strip maps of transit systems, colleges, hospitals, amusement parks, park and trail maps the LightHouse is the preeminent trailblazer in the design of maps used by blind and visually impaired people.

By including blind designers and collaborators, we always ensure the needs of the blind are intimately understood and properly addressed in the final product. We have successfully created tactile, audio-tactile, and strip maps of several San Francisco Bay Area transit systems and City of Calgary’s complex transit system. As the vanguard creators of tactile transit maps, we are uniquely prepared to design and implement cutting-edge tactile maps for transit agencies.

By incorporating Braille as well as large print, we can ensure that the majority of blind travelers benefit from tactile maps regardless of their skill level. Successful tactile transit guides relay information in ways where braille is not a necessary skill. For example, raised lines identify walls and paths of travel, and special symbols not related to Braille indicate points of interest such as the location of entrances and exits. By using, but not relying solely upon Braille, we can ensure that the majority of blind travelers will benefit from tactile transit maps regardless of their Braille skills.

The study “Attitudes of Visually Impaired Persons Toward the Use of Public transportation” found that a majority of individuals surveyed experienced frustration at not being able to drive and having to depend on others for their transportation needs; however those surveyed also reported that using effective public transit allowed them to remain independent.

Despite regular use of public transportation among individuals in the blind and visually impaired community, the study found that the majority of travelers had difficulty with the following aspects of public transit:

  • Estimating where they were when they were traveling;
  • Finding pick-up points for different modes of transportation;
  • Communicating with the driver about where to stop;
  • Getting to and from the nearest bus stop.

To discuss the creation of tactile maps, wayfinding tools and their many forms and applications, please contact MADLab@lighthouse-sf.org.

Win 2 Tickets to the Treasure Island Music Festival with LightHouse SF!

the scene at treasure island, including palm trees and a ferris wheel

What adaptive tech, app, or blindness device would you never be caught on an island without? Share your answer along with a link to this blog post, and you’ll be entered to win two free tickets (more than $300 value) to the Treasure Island Music Festival this weekend, Oct 17-18, 2015. You can share via Twitter, Facebook, or by copying us on an email to your friends. Contestants who use the hashtag #doTIblind will have an even better chance of winning.

braille and large print versions of the Treasure Island Music Festival schedule

We did it for Burning Man, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, and now we’re excited to announce that we’ve teamed up with the Treasure Island Music Festival to produce and distribute our signature festival guides for the blind and low vision bon vivant! This time we’ve created separate braille and large print schedules, with locations and set times for each artist at Treasure Island, including their star-studded new comedy tent and the ever-popular Silent Disco! The programs we made are inspired by the festival’s own design theme (with colors optimized for low vision) and emblazoned with the awesome little TIMF logo. So even if your phone dies and the lights get low, you’ll have all the information you need in your pocket and at your fingertips.

If that wasn’t enough, we teamed up with the festival to send two lucky members of our community to experience Treasure Island for free! Not only will you get to spend the weekend partying on us, but you’ll get to be some of the first to try out our accessible festival guides. And though this is truly a contest made by the blind, for the blind, we won’t prohibit sighted folks from participating, as long as they promise to bring a blind pal along if they win! So tell us about your favorite blindness tool, share this link, and get ready to spend a weekend on the Island.