Tactile maps What are

A Tactile Map is a representation in relief, designed to facilitate the orientation and recognition of places and sources of danger to anyone, especially to people who are blind and visually impaired. Inscriptions and reliefs in order to be useful for the visually impaired, must be made using strongly contrasting colors with those in the background.

The tactile map is a useful tool to enhance accessibility and usability of public places or places open to the public. Under the P.D.R. n.503 of 24 July 1996.
Tactile maps are usually performed using various types of materials very diverse from each other as aluminum, plastic, PVC, brass, etc. ..., on which we can find some useful information that can help those who are blind or do not see so that they are able to move independently in places that are not known or well known .
The information, in some cases, may merely indicate the direction to follow to reach a certain point (for example a binary or the exit of a train station and so forth) in other cases they constitute a representation, complete or partial of the structure hosting the map (street, school, airport, railway station etc..).
The size of a tactile map varies depending on the amount of information to be included in it, on tactile exploration of the needs of those who will consult it, and of the space available where it will be placed.

Characteristics of tactile maps
Tactile maps schematically reproduce the reality of the places they represent, they are not a simple copy in relief of a normal plant, but a simplified revision of the places represented. This ensures a simple and rapid recognition of the same and makes it possible to understand through by using the sense of touch. The environment is represented in the maps accurately the maps are oriented in the same direction the user. Maps of the same structure are different from each other because each one is studied according to its location.



Based on what they represent, maps can be of two types:
Track maps - The graphic representation provides a tactile path of the area for visually impaired people. User will follow the route marked on the map to reach given points/services.
Area maps - When tactile paths are not available, the map will mark out natural reference points needed to ambulate like walls, roads, green areas etc. Instead of following a path, user will trace reference points and natural guides specified on map.
The latter type also contains any tactile signals like hints on other existing maps, pedestrian crossings, main services etc.

Description of tactile maps

A tactile map is usually designed with a heading, a legend and a layout of the venue.
The heading is usually at the first top line and indicates the represented venue (i.e. “Chiavari Station”). This is the first main indicator on the layout of the venue and on what user can locate on the map. The legend, identifiable by its heading, is located (according to the available space) either on the right side or at the bottom of the map and is separated from the proper description by a dividing line which is easily identifiable by tact. Symbols are listed one under the other with their written explanation given on the side. The word “Legend” is on the first line.

Legend can also be arranged in side by side columns. In this case the heading is centered to indicate both columns must be read.
The legend on Track Maps explains the meaning of tactile symbols that associate numbers to specific places of the venue so that instead of having the name of the place specified, user will only find the number associated to it. Therefore there are symbols followed by signs like “You are here”, “Straight way”, “L-shaped turn” “Stairway” or numbers followed by signs like “Ticket Office”, “Secretary” “To Trains” etc.
The “You are here” sign, indicated by a dot which is easily recognizable from other symbols, is always listed as the first symbol of the legend. The “You are here” sign also indicates the exact position of the map as reflected in reality; if more maps are present on the representation, they are always indicated by a different symbol, also listed on the legend as “Other map”.

What's in a tactile map

Tactile maps have different parts:
- Routes and sites plan
- Braille and embossed writings
- Writings with enlarged fonts and deep chromatic contrasts with the background designated for partially sighted users
- Symbols indicating the location of architectonic elements, street furniture and/or services present in the displayed sites

The fonts

Braille alphabet fonts have regular sizes and proportions comparable to a 28 font size
In 1825, the creator of this alphanumeric code, Louis Braille, saw that tactile perception is less detailed than visual perception and therefore he realized there was need of embossed fonts with larger dimensions than those used for visual reading by normally sighted people. The shaping and dimensions of all embossed elements present on a tactile map are based on this principle; maps are to be designed and realized considering the tactile perception and exploration features.
In order to grant reading capabilities to normally sighted, color-blind people and for all those who have sight problems connected to the chromatic perception, normal alphabet enlarged fonts are written in a color which is in deep contrast with the background and is also embossed. To make the reading easy and simple the utilized font has to be free from any stylistic complications.


Tactile maps must always be easily reachable using methods familiar to the visually impaired users; there should always be a tactile sign (flooring path) or a natural guide (wall, hedge or more) leading to that point. Map planning always has to highlight a natural guide of substantial importance.
It is possible to explore the map following the represented path or to locate, with a rapid exploration, the place to reach which can be identified by a symbol, a number or an extended writing and than connects that point to the “You are here” sign which is always the main reference point

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