Posted on 12 March 2003
Visits to museums, tourist attractions and many public buildings could be much easier and more enjoyable for visually impaired people, thanks to tactile maps and images developed at the University of York.
A tactile image is a translation of any visual image into a two-dimensional picture consisting of lines, shapes and textures that are 'read' through the fingertips.
The maps, pictures, and audio guides have the potential to give people with limited sight more independence as they go about their daily lives and leisure pursuits. Many people trying to find their way around public buildings or museums say they would prefer a tactile map to a person guiding them. Pictures and diagrams, which yield information through touch, can also be used to explain particular exhibits.
The new service from University of York Tactile Images will also help firms and public bodies comply with legislation on disabled access, giving them the opportunity to develop maps, audio guides and diagrams about their services.
Researchers at York claim there are very few audio or tactile guides available anywhere. The project team at the University believe they could fill a big gap in the market.
Set-up funding for the project has come from the Higher Education Funding Council, via a special fund to help universities use their research in community settings. The York team leader is Dr Alistair Edwards, whose research focuses on making computers easier for blind people to use. He said: "Our first step has been to look at producing a portable tactile guide to include braille, large print and tactile pages. Test days have been run at a National Museum.
"We are also looking at ways in which people with visual impairments can safely orientate their way around the whole museum and perceive the shape and scale of the exhibits.
Project Manager Dawn Cliff said: "This is all part of a drive to take the University research out into the community. I hope to expand the work and eventually employ visually impaired people. The aim is to make this project commercially viable. Legally, all companies have to comply with new law on disabled access and we hope that Tactile Images will be able to help them do that."