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Spring 2001 Table of Contents
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I'm an Outreach Consultant 
Do I Really Want to Do Raised-Line Drawings?

By Barbara L. DiFrancesco, Certified Braille Transcriber and Tactile Graphics Technician

Editor's note: The TSBVI VI Outreach team is actively exploring instructional strategies and products that might help students effectively learn through a wide variety of tactile graphics. We were excited to find Barbara DiFrancesco in New Mexico and are pleased to be able to share some of her wisdom in the article below.

The theme for this year's California Transcribers and Educators of the Visually Handicapped Conference was "Putting It All Together." In the field of services to the visually impaired, teachers live this mandate on a daily basis. Stretched thin, expected to have answers and solve problems for everyone they meet, teachers of the visually impaired do just that. They make things happen and put things together for many people. With all their responsibilities, do they have to be involved in producing tactile graphics, a.k.a. raised-line drawings?

Last summer I had the opportunity to work with one of New Mexico School for the Visually Handicapped's Outreach teachers. In addition to continuing his regular scheduled work of teaching braille, giving O&M lessons, doing assessments, providing information about eye conditions, contacting parents and school administrators, etc., this Outreach teacher organized inservice sessions for special education teachers, school braillists, and parents and students in his district.

Recognized needs: special education teachers more familiarity with braille materials. School braillists basic training in the Duxbury translation program. Parents and teachers a basic understanding of braille textbooks and raised-line drawings to help students with class-work and homework. He asked if I'd be willing to work with him. As a certified braillist with experience in transcribing textbooks and school materials, a Duxbury Braille Translator for Windows user, and tactile graphics technician, I had a contribution to make! Lucky for me: I was able to experience the joy of teaching a group of people so eager to learn, thanks to an Outreach teacher who "put it all together" for all of us.

Where Do Tactiles Fit In?

Raised-line drawings are hot! In spite of that, some people still feel they are extraneous, a bother, too much to deal with when there are so many more important things to do. Considering some of the "cute drawings" we've seen in demonstrations for producing raised-line drawings, they may be right. However, tactiles have their place and serve a purpose.

In a least restrictive environment, equal access to information is important. Students who are visually impaired are expected to perform at the same level as their peers. During test and assessment times, it can become evident that a student didn't do well because of poor map reading skills or the inability to read a chart or a graph. The tactile graphics technician made the raised-line drawings correctly, but the student was unfamiliar with the material and didn't know how to handle and read a raised-line drawing. The student had the mental ability to absorb the tactile form of gathering information, and the tactile readiness. But, the student was never taught how to use it, so it was useless under the fingertips.

The lack of certain tactile skills can bring a score down, and that is unfortunate. A bright college student taking her teacher certification exam was quite dismayed at the amount of graphs she was expected to handle in the test. She had a good grasp of the content, but her inability to deal with the material in a nonlinear format affected her test score. A situation such as this shows the importance of developing in each student the basic tactile skills that demonstrate an ability to use information presented in various formats. This affects all subjects, and involves maps, charts, tables, graphs, diagrams, lists, schedules and figures.

The use of tactiles (a.k.a. raised-line drawings) must be incorporated into the overall print-to-braille adaptation of material in a reasonable manner. The purpose for using tactiles, like all braille material, is to produce literate braille readers. A transcriber must translate every word in the print text, but not every illustration needs to be rendered as a drawing. A note can suffice. The formatting of these notes is to block in cell 5 and begin the note in cell 7, to provide an easy location cue for the tactile reader.

To determine how to approach illustrations in transcribing a transcriber asks: Does the tactile reader just need to know there is a photograph and what it is? Then note that in braille. Does the picture caption or the text provide enough information about the illustration so that additional explanation is unnecessary? Then just use the caption and text. Is the illustration so complex that a written description is easier for the reader to grasp? Then you would write a description.

However, if there is a skill inherent in an illustration that a student is expected to master, then a raised-line drawing is needed. Also, if a drawing and its key organizes a lot of information so it can be easily absorbed and studied, a raised-line drawing is in order. But then, when the tactile is under the fingers of the tactile reader, that person needs direction for its proper use: the meaning of signifying objects with codes and symbols; help with tactile readiness issues and how to hand scan (read and organize) tactiles; the purpose of a key; how to use the key as a study guide; etc. It falls to the teachers to "put it all together" and make sure the necessary instruction takes place when using tactiles.

How can VI teachers keep track of this whole process? By becoming familiar with the basic skills required at each grade level. When a student who is visually impaired is expected to perform a task, incorporate the teaching of those skills into the goals of the educational plan. Work with a braille transcriber and/or tactile graphics technician to fulfill the directives of that educational plan.

For example: Johnny's IEP evaluation at the end of second grade established that he did well in that grade and is expected to function as well in third grade. When preparing Johnny's program for 3rd grade, look at the textbooks he will be using. Identify the basic skills he will be expected to master. Examine the braille textbook to assure that tactiles are present that will address those skills.

If third grade social studies is the time for learning map skills and beginning to read charts and graphs, then the braille transcription of Johnny's social studies must contain enough examples of these types of tactiles for the teacher's use in teaching Johnny. If that is not the case, there is a need to find appropriate material and get the help of a local braillist/tactile graphics technician to produce the materials under your direction. Focus on the content and purpose of the tactile. Thus, the raised-line drawing becomes a powerful teaching aid. Johnny's whole class can benefit from his presentation at a show and tell.

Form Follows Function

There are various production techniques for raised-line drawings. Each serves a different purpose. A transcriber needs to prepare masters that are error-free as to content and production technique. The master must be able to hold up for making many copies. The necessary skills for textbook production are acquired with time and experience.

This is daunting for the teacher, but the good news is that a teacher's tactiles don't need to hold to the same standards. Here are a few teacher friendly techniques that are easy to learn and use, and serve the one-on-one teaching situation quite well.

  1. Drawing boards. Use a soft mat with thin Mylar, and a ballpoint pen. Just draw on the Mylar, pressing hard enough to crinkle it. Teachers can use tactile examples for explaining a point; students can make personal drawings with notes for later study; parents can discuss school work and work with their children at home. Mylar is available from Howe Press.
  2. Puff paper. This has many names. Basically, you need either a printer, photocopy machine, or a Sharpie pen; swell-touch paper to draw on; and an image enhancer (a machine that uses a laser beam to "raise" the lines in your drawing). This technique is easy and serves well in classroom, home and work situations. Repro-Tronics produces the Tactile Image Enhancer and TIE Junior; HumanWare produces P.I.A.F. (Pictures In A Flash); and American Thermoform produces the Swell-Form Graphics Machine. They all have puff paper under different names: Swell-touch paper, Flexi-Paper, etc.

    Obviously, this technique involves equipment, therefore, you need budgeting support from your district. This technique is well worth the expense because it is so easy for teachers and students to use, is so adaptable, and is appropriate for all ages. In addition, there are groups who produce excellent math and science diagrams. The material is downloadable online, so it is accessible to any teacher or visually impaired student who knows how to use the technology. This is an excellent option, especially for high school and college level students.
  3. Tooling/embossing and collage: spur wheels and mirror image. A bit more technical but still workable, if you keep your drawings simple and uncluttered. Draw on the front; then the mirror image appears on the back. The design is raised by the use of serrated-edged spur wheels. For this technique (tooling and embossing) a tactile graphics kit is available from American Printing House for the Blind. Collage or another technique is often combined with tooling to complete the image.
  4. Computer-Assisted Diagrams (CADs): The use of the Perkins or the computer can produce direct entry designs on braille paper, O&M maps, charts, graphs, etc. Collage or application of labels can complete the design. You can also use Wikki Stix, string, and so forth with glue.
  5. Use of Overlays: If there is a tactile in a textbook, but it doesn't contain the information you need for a particular lesson, you can provide a drawing on a clear sheet of Mylar to enhance the information in the tactile. No need to start from scratch. For overlays, the Mylar needs to be a bit stiff, like the consistency of a transparency. Use flo-pens to draw designs, complete the design with spur wheels and/or point symbols to raise the image. You may use Wikki Stix and apply desired textures to your design.

Some of these techniques don't have much of a shelf life, and they are not intended for long-term use. They are intended to assist the teaching session, and serve as study tools for the student.

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Last Revision: September 1, 2003