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Feeling Through Our First Tactile Map

Feeling Through Our First Tactile Map

When the Exploratorium opened our summer exhibition, Strandbeest: The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen, we also debuted our first tactile map. Working with the San Francisco LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, we developed a 27-page spiral bound book of large print and Braille-based maps that allow visually impaired visitors to navigate through the Exploratorium’s galleries.

Creating a wayfinding system for visitors who could not use our traditional graphic maps and labels was a unique and important challenge for us. Though we were dedicated to creating this booklet, the parameters of working in Braille are different than anything we’d done before. For example, there’s only one font size for Braille; it’s not malleable like visual fonts. That dictated the amount of text we could use on each page.


To create each page of the tactile map, different textures and iconographies are overlaid on the graphical elements. Above are the two files used to create the front cover of the booklet.


This project piggybacked on a STEM workshop the Exploratorium organized in conjunction with the National Federation for the Blind. In March, visually impaired elementary and high school students visited the Exploratorium to help us develop and prototype science, technology, engineering, and math activities.

In anticipation of the workshop, Exploratorium staff worked with media specialists from LightHouse to design and print a prototype of the tactile map. Five workshop participants who were fluent in Braille tested the tactile map for us, and provided suggestions for improvement, such as adding a table of contents to the front of the booklet and noting which pages of the booklet fold out.

LightHouse for the Blind incorporated the teens’ feedback and produced a final version of the tactile map. When our museum floor changes this fall, after the September 5 close of the Strandbeest exhibition, we’ll produce an updated version of the booklet.  

These booklets are available at the Exploratorium’s Information Desk.