Introduction: The authors of this study evaluated (a) the necessary features of tactile maps to provide independent, efficient, and safe travel across a university campus and (b) a process for developing tactile maps based on user needs and preferences.
Methods: Participants who have low vision provided input, through interviews and field tests, as to which features were critical for a tactile map. The four-phase development and research design process included: Phase 1, semi-structured interviews about campus navigation; Phase 2, creating draft maps using two different tactile media – microcapsule or Braille embossed lines; Phase 3, field testing maps through site visits with participants; and Phase 4, finalizing the map. Four undergraduate students with low vision participated in Phases 1 and 3 to assess their experiences in navigating campus, and the collected data were used in Phases 2 and 4 to create, revise, and finalize the content, layout, and medium of the map.
Results: Three of the participants preferred microcapsule lines to Braille embossed lines, while one participant stated the usefulness of both media. The four-phase process allowed customization of local maps for individual users.
Discussion: Map features that contribute to readability and efficacy of use include the medium, layout, and the combination of orientation maps, which provide an “overview” of a large area, and mobility maps, which contain more detail and are designed to help the traveler in unfamiliar areas (James, 1982).
Implications for Practitioners: Colleges and universities should gather data and create tactile campus maps for students with low vision or blindness following the four-phase process used during this study. While, the data show that the map’s medium is a matter of personal preference, several features are essential to creating a map with maximum readability.