Maps That You Can Hear and Touch

Sighted people read maps almost every day. Maps help us get off at the right subway station, grasp global affairs, plan museum trips, and remember the new office floorplan. And our use of maps, and sense of what they represent, is based almost entirely on looking at them. So it's disorienting to think about navigating a new place without a map—let alone without sight, like most of the 285 million people in the world who are visually impaired do everyday. But a group of scientists, architects, and advocates are working toward on new methods of wayfinding for blind people: They're making maps that convey information through touch and sound. Maps for Transit Using maps is a major part of using public transit. That's why Dr. Joshua Miele, a scientist at the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in San Francisco, partnered with LightHouse, a local organization for the blind, to create accessible maps of every BART transit station. Made on an embossing printer, the maps are tactile, large-print, and have an audio component: By using a Livescribe smart-pen, users can tap on icons (a ticket booth or a exit, say) and listen to more detailed information (how much for a fare, or what intersection the stairs lead to). Advocates at LightHouse have been distributing the maps and pens to clients and teachers since June.

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