Use of Tactile Maps by Blind and Visually Impaired People

Simon Ungar, Angeles Espinosa Bayal, Mark Blades, Espernaza Ochaita, Christopher Spencer


Most research on tactile maps has focused on aspects of map design and methods of construction. Relatively little attention has been paid to the
way in which blind and visually impaired people actually use tactile maps for everyday way finding tasks. This paper reports on studies carried out in Madrid and Sheffield which consider how people gain spatial knowledge from tactile maps. In the Madrid study, participants were introduced to an urban area by one of three instructional methods: direct experience, tactile map or verbal description. Those who learned the area with the map were considerably more proficient in following the route unguided than were participants who received the other two instructional methods. However the different methods had little effect on the participants' overall representation of the space. It is possible that the map reading strategies used by the participants were effective for gaining practical route-based knowledge but did not give the participants an overall spatial representation of the area. To explore this possibility further, the Sheffield study considered the effect of individual differences in map reading strategies on the type of mental representation which visually impaired people acquire from a tactile map. It was found that those participants who acquired an accurate and full representation of the map used different map learning strategies from those who performed less well. We suggest implications of these studies for the education and rehabilitation of blind  and visually impaired people.


visually impaired; blind; tactile maps

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