Way back in 2011 I wrote about a volunteer effort that involved some of us at HOK SF: documenting BART stations around the Bay Area to create “talking” tactile maps for the blind. Conducted under the guidance of Lighthouse for the Blind, this effort was a great learning experience in terms of how the blind navigate complex spaces that the rest of us take for granted (transit hubs, malls.. the list goes on). It was also a great look at how technology is being harnessed to aid the differently abled. These maps have raised symbols for important navigational landmarks like escalators and stairs overlaid on a simple outline of BART stations. What’s cool is that in addition to simply ‘feeling’ the layout of the station, a blind person can also use a talking pen to learn more information about the map. From the Lighthouse blog: “When a user sweeps a map page with a Smartpen (basically, a slim computer with a tiny camera that can read that pattern) a richly detailed audio commentary on each location, including all nearby landscape features and assets, will pour into the user’s ear.” While the technology was still being figured out in 2011, we have recently learnt that these maps will soon be available for purchase through Lighthouse. Kudos to everyone who made this a reality!
We at HOK are especially excited to see this endeavor come to life. Matt from the volunteer team is working with Lighthouse to obtain one of these maps for temporary display in our office. We’re also hoping to invite Joshua Miele, president of Lighthouse to talk to the HOK office about the maps (among other things)..!
Watch this space for more!