Kent Tactile Map Project
We wanted to look into the value of creating a tactile map for the campus to help new blind and visually impaired students orientate themselves when they arrive on campus. Now there are several examples of good tactile maps out there, the RNIB has created many bespoke tactile maps for train stations. Paul is very familiar with the bronze tactile maps found in Malberg, Germany.
The first thing we had to do was map out what we thought was important to users wanting to navigate the campus and then test those assumptions with real users.
We thought about mapping the main roads and footpaths, crossings, bus stops / taxi rank, and the important buildings across the campus. One of the first things we did was start producing these information layers and plan how we were going to transfer this information to a physical object.
Main roads are an important navigational tool and many orientate themselves in relation to where they know roads are. We also wanted this map to be useful to all visitors so know that roads were an essential element to include.
Most of the usage for this tactile map will be in supporting users in navigating how to get to somewhere on campus by foot. With that in mind, displaying footpaths in a way that is clear can are not confused with nearby roads is essential.
In the end we thought of a far easier way to get all of the information onto our map base rather than using the information layers I spent time merticulously creating.
Using a projector we overlayed Google Maps onto the map base and traced all of the information we wanted. Not the most advanced method but very effective.
What we ended up with was a vast 6ft x 6ft map of the campus.
We were incredibly please with the outcome, knowing that all of our designs were accurate to the real world environment, the scaling was consistent and that we felt the map was an appropriate size and its elements suitable spaced to give clear understanding.
To make life easier when adding the tactile elements on top of this template we colour coded the map. Roads are in red, footpaths in blue, buildings in black and green spaces in green.
The next steps for us were to start thinking about what materials and shapes we would use to demonstrate different map elements. It was important to me that footpaths not only be spaced from roads enough to be distinct but also be distinct to touch as well. We had a lot of back and forth about how this could be achieved but in the end found a method and materials that can help us achieve a tactile and visually different set of footpaths and roads.
We worked with the University of Kent School of Architecture, who helped us plan out all of the buildings in CAD before laser cutting them all. There were more than 100 buildings in total.
We set up the map, laid out all of the buildings and then sat down with Paul to get his initial reactions. We were so pleased to see the ease with which Paul started pointing out buildings and being able to navigate his normal route to lectures. The next step was to test with others.