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Tactile graphics

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Tactile graphics are a way to communicate information normally found in pictures to people who are blind. They are designed to be touched rather than looked at. Tactile graphics incorporate everything from homemade graphics made from glue, cardboard, or paint to expensive professionally embossed designs. Tactile graphics are very important for communicating with people who are blind and for teaching blind children. For example, students learning geography need maps to study and learn. A student who is blind would have a much more difficult time learning than a sighted student without tactile maps to convey the information. It is important to understand that tactile graphics are not identical reproduction of a visual picture, but rather, a way of reinterpreting the information to be understood tactilely.[1]



There are several challenges that blind people have to overcome to use tactile graphics.

First, there simply are not enough tactile graphics available. Professionally designed, commercially available tactile graphics can be hard to come by. Instead, many educators must rely on developing their own graphics. There is ongoing research in easier ways to mass produce tactile graphics.

Second, haptic perception is very different from visual perception. The eyes and the parts of the brain related to sight can process information much faster and in much greater quantities than the finger tips and the parts of the brain related to touch. Because of this, the design of an effective tactile graphic can be challenging -- the graphic must convey the desired information without providing too much complexity. There are online guides in tactile graphic design, as well as classes one can take to learn the basics of tactile graphic design.[2]

A final problem related to haptic perception is that people born blind or people who lose their sight very early in life often have difficult understanding information presented to them in a 2-d form. Sighted people take for granted their ability to understand 3-d forms present in 2-d, but children who are blind often do not develop these concepts and have difficulty in subjects like geometry were the subjects are conventionally taught with using 2-d pictures. [3]


Low Tech

Homemade graphics can be made from glue, cardboard, or paint.

Please share your own approaches for how you have developed tactile graphics.

High Tech

Computers and specialized printers can used to quickly create tactile graphics.

Software can also be used to supplement tactile graphics with additional information. Computing tools such as the Nomad [4] are extremely useful in communicating 2-d information to people with visual impairments. The Nomad is a touch-sensitive digitizing pad with a built-in voice synthesizer. A tactile picture is mounted on the Nomad, and information about various parts of that picture can be stored as a file on the computer. Then, when a user presses certain areas of the picture, information is provided verbally about that area.


Author: CATEA, Georgia Tech.