Dedicated researchers, experienced designers and real world users are guiding the way for visually impaired tourists.

What we did

Sometimes visually impaired people can be dependent on sighted people for the information they need to navigate new cities, building and rooms. Sheffield Hallam set out to create an affordable and easy-to-use tactile system to enable these people to get around indoor spaces independently.

A team of our researchers and designers developed a novel and simple piece of graphical software that produces tactile maps. The maps enable visually impaired people to acquire information about how a building, an individual floor or a room is laid out before visiting. TacMap™ can represent a wide range of buildings and venues such as hotels, museums, theatres, universities, schools, bus and train stations, transport hubs, sports and leisure complexes or workplaces.

The graphical software we developed makes it possible to produce accessible information at a reasonable cost. We created a new kind of spatial language using symbols to represent different indoor features and a key to explain the symbols to users. Once created on screen, the maps are produced on reactive paper. After printing, the paper is heat processed to produce the tactile surface. One of the unique aspects of TacMap™ is that users can request a map from the venue they're planning to visit in advance, or from their local blind society. This means that visitors can familiarise themselves with the space before navigating it in real life. TacMap™ can also work alongside white canes and guide dogs.

The result

We carried out substantial user trials with extremely positive outcomes, in Sheffield's Winter Gardens and Millennium Gallery. The trials were supported by Zychem Ltd, the Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind and Sheffield City Council.

TacMap™ has now been established as a dedicated company to meet the demand for tactile maps. Having already supplied the London Olympics 2012 with a map of the Olympic Park for the Paralympic events, the Holiday Inn, and Sheffield and Meadowhall Interchanges with maps, an exciting project with East Midlands Trains is next.

They say

This is wonderful, this illustrates so many things. The plans are really useful, and it is great to be able to go in a room such as the toilets and to know where the basins, the WC and the hand dryers are.

Julie Smethurst, registered blind, Sheffield

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