J.R. Marston1, J. Miele2

1 - Department of Geography, University of California

2 - Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute


Typical maps can be used to understand spatial layouts and street networks, assist when planning efficient navigation in a new area, and are also extremely helpful as a reference during the navigation task.  High-quality maps, to any scale, are easily available to any sighted person on the Internet.  However, for the blind and visually impaired these maps are inaccessible.  The TMAP project at Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute offers a way for blind users to access tactile representations of a customizable area, with standardized layouts and legends.


To date, there is no way to make maps suitable for people with low vision.  Many people with a wide range of visual impairments do not read Braille, and might have problems reading or understanding tactile information.  Furthermore, they might have enough residual vision that if the streets and their names were presented in the proper color, size and style, they could benefit tremendously by using customizable large print maps.  This would allow people with low vision to participate in the computer revolution of readily available maps and allow them to study a new area, preplan travel, and have a portable and usable map to carry and consult while navigating in an unfamiliar area.


We present ongoing research on the needs of people with various visual impairments in regards to map layout, readability, and simplicity.  An automated system to produce maps for those with low vision should have user interfaces which would allow the user to customize the line width, font style, font size, legend and labeling style, all with a choice of colors for both the background and the various map representations.  In addition, the user should have a choice of how to label the streets, if clutter is not a problem, the street names could be placed next to the streets, like regular visual maps.  For less clutter, streets name abbreviations s can be shown at the edge of the map, and perhaps an additional page that lists the abbreviations and full names in a customizable order.  Users should be able to have reselected preferences with the additional option to change the settings if the resulting map is not as legible as desired.  With this type of system, vision impaired people with many types of eye disorders, will be able to view on-screen, and then print a fully customized large print map at any scale, that best suits their individual needs.