Tel. +39 081 6174324

Via R. Caravaglios 36 - 80125 Napoli ITALY

Tactile maps

What are tactile maps

Tactile maps are especially designed to be read by touch in the aim to facilitate blind and visually impaired persons to orient and recognize places and dangers. When choosing colors for writings and reliefs, colors must contrast with the background. Tactile maps are a useful tool to facilitate access and use of public places or places open to the public. Pursuant to D.P.R. n.503 of 24 July 1996.Tactile maps are generally made using a sheet of material such as aluminum, plastic, pvc, brass etc…, showing information helping blind and visually impaired persons to safely navigate unknown places.
Sometimes information are limited to directions towards specific points (a platform or the exit of a railway station etc…), in other cases they represent a partial or complete representation of the area where the map is installed (road, school, airport, railway station etc). Sizes vary according to the amount of information the map contains, tactile and exploration needs of users, available space in the interested place

Characteristics and types

Tactile maps schematically reproduce the places they represent, they are not just embossed copies of normal maps; they are a simplified version of graphic maps thus allowing blind and visually impaired persons to quickly recognize places by touch.
The environment represented in the map and the user are oriented in the same direction. In a same area different maps are installed, they are designed specifically for the point they are installed in.
According to the areas they represent, maps can be divided in two types:
Route maps, showing the tactile path for blind and visually impaired persons to navigate in the represented place. In this case users will follow the route shown on the map to reach different points or services.
Site maps, showing the natural points of reference needed to navigate the place such as walls, roads, green areas, etc, if tactile paving is not available Instead of a route, users will then follow the points of reference represented on maps. This type of maps also contains tactile information concerning pedestrian crossings, location of main services, etc….

Maps Description

Tactile maps generally show an heading, keys to interpretation and the representation of places.
The heading is generally placed on the first line and indicates the place it represents; an example of a heading is “Rome Station”. These are the first information on the places the map represents and help to understand what can be found on that particular map.
Keys to interpretation, can be placed, according to the available space, either on the right or in the bottom of the map and can be recognized by a clear separation line. In the keys area of the map a series of vertically aligned symbols, accompanied by explanations, are shown.
In the first line it is marked "Keys to interpretation". The layout of keys can also be made of two columns and in this last case the first line is centered so inviting users to read both columns. In route maps keys to interpretation explain the meaning of the different tactile signs; keys also contain numbers that are associated to specific points represented in the map, users will find the explanation for that number in the keys to interpretation. So, keys and writings indicating "you are here", "straight route", "L turn", "stairs" or other are represented on the map as well as numbers with associated writings such as "ticket office", “secretariat”, “to the trains”, etc. The point “You are here" is represented by a distinguishable embossed dot and always is the first point represented. The “You are here “, point also indicates the exact location of the map in the reality; if other maps are represented inside a map, a different key will be used in association with the writing "other map".

What's in a map

In tactile maps different kinds of elements can be found:


  • Schematized routes and places.
  • Braille writing an reliefs.
  • Large sized fonts in strong contrast with the background for visually impaired persons.
  • Symbols indicating the location of architectural elements, street furniture and/or services existing in the places represented.

The Braille alphabet fonts have fixed size and proportions that are comparable to a 28 size font. This alpha-numeric code was invented in 1825 by Louis Braille who realized that tactile perception is less detailed than visual perception and discovered that reliefs had to be much bigger than fonts normally used for writing. Hence, shape and size of all the elements represented on tactile maps must take into consideration the specific characteristics of tactile perception and exploration. For the benefit of visually impaired, color blind and all those persons having troubles due to color perception and help them reading maps, embossed and large sized fonts of normal alphabet are used, in colors ensuring high contrast with the background. To simplify and facilitate reading, the type of font used must be free of any stylistic complication.


The tactile maps should always be easily reachable by blind and visually impaired persons without being helped; either tactile flooring or natural points of reference (wall, fence, or others) should always be available for them to reach the location of tactile maps. A good tactile map must always highlight relevant natural points of reference. The complete exploration of a map is always possible as well as a quick exploration to find the point of interest; this point can be indicated by a symbol, a number or a writing allowing to find the shortest possible route between the point "You are here" - the main reference point of all maps, and the point to be reached.

Back to Top
en_GBEnglish (UK)