R.D. Jacobson

University of Calgary, Department of  Geography, Calgary, Canada


While still not considered a large component of mainstream cartographic research, the map-related research focusing on the blind and partially sighted map user population continues to grow.  Currently, several groups of researchers housed in universities in North America and internationally are conducting and pursuing research that focuses on identifying the needs, creating new innovative delivery methods, assessing strategies and spatial and geospatial performance, improving access, and developing potential educational resources for blind and partially sighted map users. 


Traditional tactile maps are tangible raised line products that are difficult to interpret, produce and to disseminate. By moving to a digital development and interaction paradigm it is possible to facilitate digital tactile maps with location based context aware services in the geographic environment.  Additional modalities for displaying cartographic information are accessed through an enhanced tactile map or the electronic version of the tactile map through a touchpad, touchscreen, or haptic interface that uses force feedback to simulate the raised surface of a tactile map. A digital virtual equivalent of a tactile map can now be disseminated across the Internet, accessible by many users in different locations, including portable data assistants. The research outlines a conceptual schema for integrating graphic, auditory and haptic information, in map displays. Each of these modalities has their own set of variables. Auditory information is presented in map referenced, spatialised and immersive contexts, incorporating a mixture of speech, representational sound, sonification, and earcons.

This facilitates a user to hear auditory cues that add both redundant and complementary information that would normally be presented through text labels and other cartographic depiction methods. Results are presented with auditory and haptic displays where users have been analyzed performing simplified map reading tasks, such as, shape identification, searching, zooming and panning. 

A multimodal approach to cartographic data interaction provides novel opportunities for interacting with cartographic data.  This has wide reaching relevance beyond tactile mapping incorporating innovative and original solutions to key cartographic research areas. These include, but are not limited to, environments where users may be “blind” due to bandwidth or small screen display problems in mobile computing environments, attention diversion in car navigation systems, or by an overloaded visual channel in complex data analysis interfaces in geovisualization and data mining interfaces, or novice users exploring unfamiliar data.