THE END OF TACTILE MAPPING OR A NEW BEGINNING: LBS FOR VISUALLY IMPAIRED PEOPLE
Anglia Ruskin University East Road Cambridge
This paper addresses the likely implications Location-Based Services (LBS) will have for tactile cartography generally and visually impaired people in particular. The advent of automatic navigation devices raises serious questions about the future of mapping for blind and partially sighted people. Will electronic devices ultimately replace conventional tactile maps? Will new mobile digital technology complement existing static raised print maps? Or will wayfinding tools encourage a new breed of user altogether, people who would otherwise eschew any representation of geographic data? Answers to these questions are hard to find, but this paper sets out to explore these difficult issues by asking visually impaired people, the potential users of new navigation technology, what they think. As part of a tactile map use survey thirty blind and partially sighted people were asked about satellite mapping and wayfinding devices in order to establish their awareness of the new technology, what they thought advantages of GPS were, and how best mobile devices could be tailored to meet their explicit needs. In turn the paper presents practical considerations about: positioning technology; the equipment that will deliver LBS; and the multifaceted nature of spatial data provision via electronic media; as each applies to blind and partially sighted users. While many aspects of LBS technology are still at a formative stage, offering a non-visual perspective might at first glance appear premature. However this paper argues why this is an ideal time. Any input provided now, could still be incorporated in the applications that will eventually result. As it is essential that special user groups do not miss out on the considerable benefits forecast for LBS, this paper also represents a clarion call for tactile cartographers to become involved in leading research relevant to electronic wayfinding devices that that will help influence their design, and for developers to listen to what a potentially large user group has to say. On the basis of user responses, known habits of tactile map users, and general observations about tactile cartography that have begun to emerge from both historical analysis of tactile maps and surveys of map producers, some tentative conclusions about the specific requirements of visually impaired people are drawn. Cautious answers to the questions posed about what the future holds for tactile mapping are also made.