2006 Conference General Sessions


Presenter #1
Steven Landau
Touch Oraphics, Inc
330 West 38 Street Suite 1204
New York
Day Phone: 212—375—6341
Fax: 646—452—4511 C
Email: sl@touchgraphics.com

Joshua Miele
Smith Kettelwell RERC
2318 Fillmore Street
San Francisco
ay Phone: 212—375—6341
Email: sl@touchgraphics .com

Work on a new system for generating on—the—fly talking tactile maps for use in orientation and nobility training will be presented. Users go to a web site, enter an address in the US, and are sent a file they can send to a Braille embosser, and then place on a TTT. They can explore the map through a combination of looking, listening and touching.

Digital technologies are creating significant new life-enhancements for individuals with disabilities. One very promising development is the new Tactile Map Automated Production (TMAP) system created by researchers at Smith Kettlewell Eye Research Institute (SKERI) in San Francisco. TMAP is a website (see figure 1, a screen capture from the TMAP homepage) where a person who is blind or visually impaired can enter any address in the US; the remote server computer generates a file containing information needed to produce a tactile map of the place in question and sends it back to the user, who can then output it to a Braille embosser. This system, which is free to the user, is of potentially huge significance to a print disabled individual who desires to learn about a new neighborhood in conjunction with Orientation and Mobility training, or simply in advance of independent travel in a new place.  

The power of TMAP, however, is partially limited by the technical problems associated with providing complete and unambiguous text labeling of place names and other information associated with the tactile maps it generates. For this reason, the developers of TMAP at Smith-Kettelwell have teamed with Touch Graphics, Inc., to produce a new version of the system. This work, being carried out under funding from a Phase 1 SBIR grant through the US Department of Education (National Institute for Disability and Rehabilitation Research), has led to the creation of new features for the TMAP site. These allow the user to request that, in addition to the tactile map file, they are sent supplemental information that allows the map generated to be used in conjunction with Touch Graphics’ Talking Tactile Tablet (TTT). The map created under these conditions will include all of the tools and controls needed to operate the TTT (see figure 2, a sample sheet for Talking TMAPs). The user places the embossed overlay sheet, including the map, on the TTT device (see figure 3, a photograph of the TTT device), and then interacts with the map by pressing on various streets and other landmarks to hear audio information about the thing that was pressed.

Map information is supplied in a layered fashion, and the user taps his or her finger to “reveal” each subsequent layer. So, the user presses once to hear, say, a street name, then taps again to hear the address range for buildings located along that particular block, taps again to learn how many lanes of traffic normally move on that street, and taps again to find out in which direction automobile traffic can be expected to be flowing. By this means, a very large amount of information is made accessible to the user, but he or she has complete control over how much or little of this is spoken at any moment, so the user is not overwhelmed by “too much information”.

Figure 3: A photograph of the Talking Tactile Tablet with an overlay sheet from the
National Geographic Talking Tactile Atlas of the World mounted.
In addition to audio-tactile interactivity described above, Talking TMAP will also permit the map user to access a Main Menu of options, to carry out specific tasks, such as consulting an alphabetical index of all of the places depicted on any map that has been generated with the system, and then having their finger led to that location on the tactile sheet. Other Main Menu options include a distance calculator, filters to screen out unwanted classes of information and the ability to adjust user settings, such as speech rate, voice preference and touch sensitivity
The speakers will describe the system, provide a live demonstration of the process of creating and using maps made with Talking TMAP. They will also present findings from the Phase 1 usability trials, in which blind users in New York City and San Francisco, and deaf-blind at Helen Keller National Center in Sands Point users (with the aid of a refreshable Braille display), New York, were asked to make and interpret maps. They will also outline their plans for possible follow-on research.

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