Blind Bargains

Review: San Francisco Lighthouse Helps to Bring Braille Maps to the Masses

One of the biggest challenges faced by a blind traveler is obtaining a concept of their surroundings. The availability of Braille maps has been rare if not nonexistent. Thanks to a partnership between the Tactile Map Automated Production (TMAP) Project and the San Francisco Lighthouse, one can now obtain hard copy maps for any address in the United States for a small fee. After seeing the results for an area near our home, we were quite impressed.

The San Francisco Lighthouse was nice enough to provide us with a sample of a Braille map produced with a Tiger embosser and the TMAP software. We emailed our requested address and received a Braille map with a one square mile view of the area within about a week. The normal cost is $15 unless you are a California resident, in which case it is free for individual use. As for the service provided by the lighthouse, the process was simple and to-the-point.

The actual maps are generated using software written by the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute. The map is provided on one regular-sized sheet of Braille paper with separate sheets for a street name key and other information. The street names are labeled along the sides of the map and the exact address we requested was marked with a raised bump in the middle.

We were quite impressed with the accuracy of the map, which included many shorter streets and streets which had several curves. The labeling of streets on the outside of the map made the rest of the page less cluttered and easier to navigate.

There were only a couple of small drawbacks to the map, which are out of the lighthouse’s control. Small streets which do not reach one of the sides of the map are not labeled, so their names are not available. There were also some streets which were close to each other which lacked labels, probably to avoid clutter. It would be nice if the TMAP software could include a list of unlabeled streets and their approximate locations on the map. Another useful option we would like to see is the ability to request a different zoom level for the map. While options such as one mile, a half mile, or quarter mile radius are available, other levels of detail may be easily attainable using the software.

For those without a Tiger, Index, or Enabling Technologies Braille embosser, the TMAP collaboration with the San Francisco Lighthouse is a welcome and very useful alternative for obtaining Braille maps with useful information. This could be a definite help for mobility instructors and professionals looking to convey map information in an accessible form. Travelers moving to a new area can easily learn their surroundings. Assistive Technology vendors can include a map to their location in brochures.

We look forward to further innovations from this project and appreciate the increased amount of collaboration between organizations to bring accessible information to all.

What: Accessible Maps from Smith-Kettlewell and the San Francisco Lighthouse

Cost: Free for individual California residents, $15 for others


Category: Articles

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J.J. Meddaugh is an experienced technology writer and computer enthusiast. He is a graduate of Western Michigan University with a major in telecommunications management and a minor in business. When not writing for Blind Bargains, he enjoys travel, playing the keyboard, and meeting new people.

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