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Spring 2002 Table of Contents
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Are We There Yet? or How I Spent My Summer Vacation

By Jim Durkel, Statewide Staff Development Coordinator, TSBVI, Outreach
(with many thanks to Barbara DiFrancesco, Lucia Hasty and Ike Presley)

Like many families, my family traveled for summer vacations. I remember two things I especially liked about these trips: souvenirs and maps. I want to talk about how families can help their children with visual impairments enjoy these same two parts of summer vacation.

Tactile graphics are a way to give people with visual impairments a kind of "touch picture." Tactile graphics use raised lines, various textures, and raised points to create graphs and maps. Tactile graphics have also been used to represent science diagrams, such as the bones in the human hand.

Tactiles are different from models, as they are more 2-dimensional than 3-dimensional. Tactiles are representations, and people who use them need to be taught how to read and interpret them just as people who are sighted need to be taught how to read and interpret visual graphs, maps, and diagrams.

One way to start helping children learn to use tactiles is through the creation of remnant books. During a family vacation, this is similar to collecting souvenirs.

The point of the remnant book is to help the child remember people, places, or activities encountered during the vacation. When I was a child, I collected (among other things) postcards, photographs, books, rocks, pine cones, and knickknacks from souvenir shops. Each one of these "treasures" helped me remember my family's trip.

A remnant book can start with a scrapbook. Instead of photographs, things or pieces of things can be attached to the pages. Did you stop at McDonald's for lunch one day? Then glue in the empty french fry box. Did you stop to soak your feet in a brook? How about a small pebble picked up from the bank?

The important thing to keep in mind about a remnant book is that the objects or pieces of objects should be meaningful to the child. Each remnant should also feel differently from any other remnant. By attaching these "souvenirs" to pages and then reviewing the book with the child, you can start to help your child learn that these tactiles stand for, or represent, an experience.

If your child is starting to use braille, simple sentences can be added to the pages either with a slate and stylus or through the use of a braille writer or labeler. If you are unsure about how to do this, ask your child's Teacher of the Visually Impaired or your Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) Children's Specialist.

Maps are more sophisticated tactile graphics. A map is just a representation of space and the relationship of two or more points in that space. The simplest map would be a line from one point to another. The direction of movement, and maybe the distance between the two points, could be represented on this map. For example, I want a map that represents a trip from Austin to Dallas. I could have a point at the bottom of the page represent Austin, then draw a line up towards the top of the page (to indicate movement to the north). I could then use a second, different point to indicate Dallas. Midway between these two points I could add a third point to indicate Waco, which lies midway between Austin and Dallas. How do I know the top of the page is north? I put a key or a compass rose on the page to let the reader know that. How do I know the circle point is Austin, the square is Dallas and the triangle is Waco? Again, I have a key that explains this to the person using the map.

How would I make these points and lines? Points are the easiest. A point can be made on a piece of braille paper using a slate and stylus. Or I can use a push pin on the back of the paper to make a raised bump on the front. I can use a brass brad pushed through the paper to serve as a dot or use a paper punch to cut a dot out of cork, cardboard, or fabric. I could use a small bead as one point. Again, remember that if I want two points to represent different things I need to make each point feel differently from all the others.

Lines don't have to be tricky either. I can create a line by gluing string or ribbon on the braille paper. I can use puff paint or white glue to draw a line. Pipe cleaners or candle wicking (with a metal interior) can also be used to make lines.

One easy way to make more elaborate maps is to put a piece of thin writing paper on a piece of wire screen. For example, using a crayon, draw an outline of a state. The crayon wax will now be raised slightly and have a bumpy feel. Points and lines inside the map can then be added.

Of course, the outline of a state can be raised by gluing string or ribbon over a tracing.

Great lines can be made by taking a piece of braille paper, placing it on a piece of carbon paper with the copy side up, then tracing the map on the top of the braille paper. A reverse image will appear on the back of the braille paper. Put the braille paper on a rubber mat (a vinyl place mat works well) with the reversed image side up. Now trace the reverse image using an embossing wheel (or tracing wheel from a sewing kit). A raised line will be formed on the braille paper.

You could also use a common screw driver and a hammer to add lines. Again, work on the back side of the braille paper. Place your mat under the paper and then place the screw driver on the line you want to raise. Gently hit the screw driver with the hammer, lift the screw driver up, move it over, and repeat. This gives you a kind of dashed line on the front side of the braille paper.

If your child can't bring home any braille paper from school, use a manila file folder.

Do you want your map to represent the coastline of a state along the ocean? Cut the state's outline from a piece of cardboard and glue it onto a piece of paper. The ocean will be the low space and the state will be the raised space. Add points for cities and lines for roads.

Here are some general things to think about when making a map. First, everything that is on a visual map might not go on a tactile map. A good tactile will only use 4 or 5 different types of lines and no more than 4 or 5 different kinds of points. Adding more can be confusing for the person reading a tactile map.

Put only important information on the map. If you never use farm-to-market roads, don't put them on the map; stick with the Interstate highways. Ask your child what she or he would like to have on the map. Are they interested in the cities? The rivers you will cross? Campgrounds in which you will stay?

Maps need to start out simple. Add more details only as your child develops the necessary tactile skills and an understanding of maps. For example, a child's first map may only show a few main cities with one or two connecting roads. Other information, such as rivers, other cities, and other roads can be added over time. It may be better to have several different maps, such as one with rivers and another with highways. This way no single map becomes unreadable because of too much information.

Making maps is just as much fun as reading them. Have your child help. This is the best way to find out what kind of lines and points feel different to your child, and if they are far enough apart to be easily read. Your child can practice using a slate and stylus to put labels on the map.

If something unplanned but exciting happens, be prepared to add a special point to the map during the trip to help your child remember this event later. (Trust me, something unplanned but exciting happens on every trip!)

If you know ahead of time where you will be going, you may want to ask your child's Teacher of the Visually Impaired or Orientation and Mobility Specialist for some help. These professionals may have access to machines that can make raised line drawings using special paper. They may also be able to order a map for your child from the American Printing House for the Blind (APH).

Your child's Orientation and Mobility Specialist may be able to lend your child a braille compass, to find the direction you are traveling and then compare that to the directions on the map.

Maybe your child can't use a tactile map. How about an auditory map? You and your child can record the major information onto a cassette tape. This could be as simple as "First we drove to Dallas. In Dallas we visited Grandma. Then we went to Six Flags." Or as elaborate as "We left Austin on IH 35 traveling north. We went through Temple and Waco. We stopped for kolaches in West. We arrived at Grandma's house in Dallas 4 hours after leaving home." This kind of recording, together with any souvenirs that were collected, will help your child remember the trip.

Students with low vision may be able to use existing maps, or they may benefit from maps which have been enlarged and/or which have had irrelevant information taken out. Have you ever seen the trip maps created by AAA? These maps break down a trip into several pieces with each piece having its own page. This modification may help a child with low vision find and interpret important information more easily. Breaking a map into pieces could also benefit a child learning to read a tactile map.

Of course, magnifiers are great to use with maps. In addition to reading maps, a small hand held magnifier is good for exploring leaves or stones, or other objects encountered on the vacation. Monocular or telescope use can be encouraged by having the child watch for highway exits or billboards. Monoculars and telescopes can also be used to play "license plate lotto." Whoever spots the most license plates from different states is the winner.

Many children with low vision enjoy taking photographs. Before you buy film, find out if your child sees black and white pictures better than color pictures. Disposable cameras have become so inexpensive that families may be able to afford to have several photographers!

This summer, help your child create memories while reinforcing important skills!

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Last Revision: July 30, 2002