Tactile maps make navigating around easier

13 April 2018

Australia's leading provider of services to the blindness and low vision community, Vision Australia, have recently refurbished their national head office in Kooyong, Victoria implementing best practice in accessible design.

Way-finding practices have been purpose fit for the building and not only meets Disability Discrimination Act requirements (section 23) but also aims to exceed it.

Vision Australia project manager for the Kooyong refurbishment Jennifer Smith said one of the way-finding measures is a tactile map at entrances to the building.

"Not only have we put tactile maps in the entrances, we have added additional components to the maps including audible content that activates with touch, large print, high contrast tactile elements and braille," Jennifer said.

"The importance of accessibility was acknowledged right at the beginning of the two year process, in the design phase. The building was designed to have simple defined pathways and area segmentation into clear zones which would allow for the tactile maps to translate the building easier."

The final prototypes of the tactile maps were developed in collaboration with Monash University researchers from the Faculty of Information Technology's SensiLab and with consultation and input from Vision Australia's clients and workforce. 

Monash University senior lecturer Matthew Butler said Monash and Vision Australia have been working together for a couple of years.

"The work we're doing with Vision Australia forms part of a bigger research agenda looking at how emerging technologies can be used to improve access to graphical information by those who are blind or have low vision," Dr Butler said.

"We have been looking at how new technologies, especially 3D printing, can be used in contexts such as learning, orientation and mobility, and cultural understanding. 

"We want to understand what techniques and technologies may be better suited than traditional tactile representations, what strategies are required for effective understanding and how can we build capacity within the sector to produce and use these new representations."

Over the next six months the research team will run research feedback sessions in order to evaluate the design. 

"We hope to publish our findings and inform current conversations in the community about best practice standards for public signage and way-finding design," he said.