What are tactile graphics?

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Tactile graphics, sometimes referred to as the haptic sensory modality, deliver information through touch. They often accompany Braille textbooks to convey content in maps, charts, building layouts, schematic diagrams, and images of geometric figures. Tactile graphics are often handmade by Braille transcribers as part of Braille textbook production. In some cases, the creation of tactile graphics is facilitated by automated processes using various software applications. Some methods used to create tactile graphics are described below.

  • A hand-tooling method produces a raised image on paper or aluminum diagramming foil. Specially-designed tools hand-emboss raised lines and textures. A Thermoform device creates multiple copies of originals produced by this method.
  • A partially-automated method prints computer generated graphics onto capsule or swell paper, which causes the lines to rise when the paper is sent through a special heating device. In this process, the black portions of the copy swell outward to form a raised line tactile graphic.
  • Some Braille embossers are equipped with a graphics mode that can be used for producing tactile graphics, although additional software may be required to use this functionality. There are also specialized Braille printers, like the Tiger series of embossers by ViewPlus, which are specifically designed to create tactile graphics in addition to standard Braille.
  • The University of Washington's Tactile Graphics Project provides a number of resources designed to increase access to mathematics, engineering, and science information from graphical images by students who are blind. One helpful application is the Tactile Graphics Assistant which, when combined with regular software applications, enables the rapid translation of visual graphics to a tactile form.
  • A valuable resource for creating tactile graphics is the Tactile Diagram Manual produced by Purdue University. This downloadable manual is for educators who need to convert science and math diagrams into tactile graphics.

For more information on creating accessible math materials, consult the Knowledge Base article, What are some techniques for creating Braille math materials?

Last update or review: January 25, 2013