Future Reflections                                                                                                 Fall, 2003

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Tactile Educational Materials: Tips and Resources

by Robert S. Jaquiss, Jr.

I was very fortunate to have parents who took the time to show me things, and to make tactile materials for me to use in school. My parents understood that I needed to learn things that can only be conveyed with tactile maps, diagrams, and models. What was true in the early sixties is still true today. Blind children must be exposed to tactile materials and models. Schools use pictures, computerized animations, and videos as part of the educational process for sighted children. If blind children are to remain on an equal footing with their sighted peers, tactile materials must be made available for their use. Here are a few ideas and some pointers to get parents and teachers started.

Making It Yourself

Making tactile materials using the collage method is time-consuming, but can be inexpensive and even fun. Start with a piece of tag board or poster board as a base. Cut shapes out of more tag board, sandpaper, and textured cloth, then glue it all together. You can create Braille labels and glue these on as well. If you plan to Thermoform your creation, you must avoid using corrugated cardboard or other materials that will crush or melt. Transcribers who make collage models use just about anything imaginable. I have seen strings, wire, hardware cloth, polymer clay, and food items such as pasta and seeds. Once I even saw heart shaped crackers used. However, I recommend that food items be avoided as they will attract vermin.

Some transcribers use acrylic paint. You can fill a syringe and use it to draw lines. Art, craft, fabric, hardware, and hobby supply stores are good sources of materials. Both the American Printing House for the Blind and Howe Press sell equipment and supplies for making tactile materials. Please note the instructions when working with glues or other chemical-based materials. If you are getting started, you will need to experiment to see what techniques and materials you like best. When my father made a city map he used tag board for the base and craft aluminum for making the Braille labels. The result thermoformed quite well.

Depending on the situation, you might want to consider making a model with Legos, Erector Set, Mechano, Fishertechnik, or other construction sets you can buy in most toy stores. I like to see those things that are three-dimensional represented the same way, or at least as bas-relief. For example, a lion is best shown as a stuffed lion. My second choice is a model lion, a bas-relief image is my third choice, and a line drawing is my least favorite choice. Blind students need to see the various representations, but the more abstract the representation, the more difficult it is to understand. For mechanical items it is best to look at the real thing or at a working model.

Some technological advances have made it easier to produce tactile materials. Graphs, pie charts, bar charts, and outline maps can be nicely done with collage, thermal expansion paper, or on a Tiger printer. The advent of thermal expansion paper (see the article in the May 2003 Braille Monitor) and the family of Tiger embossers have made it easier to produce line drawings, outline maps, and charts. The two most common software packages used for making tactile materials on a computer are Adobe Illustrator and CorelDraw. There is a lot of clip art available that can be used especially if it is in the form of line drawings. The advantage of computer-based solutions is that they are often faster and the file used to create the image can be shared.

Hands-On Experiences

Looking at the real thing is the best way to learn about it. If a child is learning about farm animals, take the child to a farm or a 4-H exhibit at a fair. Get help finding real animals to touch. Each year at our NFB national conventions, Safari Club International sets up a display of stuffed wild animals for the conventioneers. This is about the only way a blind person will ever get to feel what some wild animals are like.

A growing number of museums offer tactile exhibits. Among these are the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania; Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland; the Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama; the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, Jacksonville, Florida; and the Smithsonian, Washington D.C. Check with museums and historical societies in your area. Keep an eye on calendars of events for your area for opportunities to have hands-on experiences. Lastly, I encourage parents and teachers to think of hands-on experiences as fun adventures. It doesn’t really matter if the experience isn’t clean. Hands and clothes will wash.

REFERENCES, PRODUCTS, AND OTHER RESOURCES

Inclusion in this list does not constitute an endorsement of the company or the product by the National Federation of the Blind.

Adapted Graphics for the Blind and
Visually Impaired (Adapted Graphics).
The purpose of this computer listserv is to discuss graphics designed for the blind and visually impaired and the development of tactile graphics in general. See the Web page for subscription instructions.

Web site: www.topica.com/lists/adaptedgraphics 

Art Education for the Blind, Inc. (AEB)
creates and sells courses on art history and art appreciation.
Art Education for the Blind, Inc.
160 Mercer Street,
New York, New York 11102
phone: (212) 334-3700
email: info@arteducation.org
Web site: www.artseducation.info

American Printing House for the Blind (APH)
sells the Tactile Graphics Drawing Kit. This kit allows transcribers and teachers to produce masters for thermoforming. APH also sells a number of tactile books and materials for children.
American Printing House for the Blind
1839 Frankfort Avenue,
P.O. Box 6085,
Louisville, Kentucky 40206-0085
phone: (502) 895-2405
toll free customer service: (800) 223-1839
fax: (502) 899-2274
email: info@aph.org
Web site: www.aph.org

American Thermoform Corporation
sells the Thermoform machine, Brailon, Swell-Form machine, Swell-Touch paper, and other items.
American Thermoform Corporation
1758 Brackett Street
La Verne, California 91750
phone: (909) 593-6711
toll free: (800) 331-3676
fax: (909) 593-8001
email: sales@atcbrleqp.com
Web site: www.atcbrleqp.com

The Construction Site
sells an enormous variety of construction sets. Sets are for all
ages and include Brio, Erector, K’NEX, Lego,
Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, and many more.
The Construction Site
200 Moody Street
Waltham, Massachusetts 02453
phone: (781) 899-7900
toll free: (866) 899-7900
fax: (781) 899-6485
email: foreman@constructiontoys.com
Web site: www.constructiontoys.com

Creative Adaptations for Learning (CAL)
serves children and adults who are blind, visually impaired, or have dyslexia, autism, cognitive learning disability, or other special needs. They sell tactile greeting cards, flashcards, shapes and rhymes books, raised shapes counting cards, and so forth.
CAL
38 Beverly Road
Great Neck, New York 11021-1330
phone: (516) 466-9143
email: calinfo@cal-s.org
Web site: www.cal-s.org

Fischer Scientific
sells a wide variety of scientific equipment, supplies, and three-dimensional models.
Web site: http://www.fisherscientific.com

Fischertechnik
produces a wide variety of construction sets. Some of these sets are very sophisticated, and include pneumatic, robotic, and computer interface components. Industrial designers use the advanced systems to model and simulate industrial processes. Fischertechnik has relationships with partners throughout the world. In the U.S. and Canada, Model A Technology serves as the official representative for sales and support.
Model A Technology
2420 Van Landen Way
Modesto, California 95356
phone: (209) 575-3445;
fax: (209) 575-2750
Web site: www.fischertechnik.com

gh, LLC,
provides Braille translation, tactile graphics, and accessible HTML services.
gh, LLC
Purdue Technology Center,
3000 Kent Avenue,
West Lafayette, Indiana 47906
phone: (765) 775-3776
toll free: (866) MY-3-DOTS (693-3687)
fax: (765) 775-2501
email: info@ghbraille.com
Web site: www.ghbraille.com

Howe Press
sells tools for creating tactile graphics. The available items include:  compasses, protractors, rulers, and raised-line drawing kits.
Howe Press
Perkins School for the Blind,
175 North Beacon Street,
Watertown, Massachusetts 02472
phone: (617) 924-3434;
fax: (617) 926-2027
email: howepress@perkins.org
Web site: www.perkins.org

Hubbard Scientific
sells a variety of items including a large collection of raised relief maps. It should be noted, however, that these maps do not have Braille labels. They are useful for showing the actual shape of land areas and are a valuable adjunct to Braille maps.
Hubbard Scientific
401 West Hickory Street,
P.O. Box 2121,
Fort Collins, Colorado 80522
toll free: (800) 289-9299
phone: (970) 484-7445; fax: (970) 484-1198
Web site: www.shnta.com/about.aspx

Humanware Pulse Data
sells a tactile graphic making device called Pictures In A Flash (P.I.A.F) and thermal expansion paper.
Humanware Pulse Data
175 Mason Circle
Concord, California 94520
toll free: (800) 722-3393
fax: (925) 681-4630
Web site: www.humanware.com

Independent Living Aids, Inc.,
sells a wide variety of items. Of particular interest are the Odyssey Talking Globe and various maps.
Independent Living Aids, Inc.
200 Robbins Lane,
Jericho, New York 11753
toll free sales: (800) 537-2118
fax: (516) 937-3906
email: can-do@independentliving.com
Web site: www.independentliving.com

The Princeton Braillists
produce a number of atlases, and anatomical illustrations. These are very well done, and are on Thermoform plastic.
Princeton Braillists,
76 Leabrook Lane
Princeton, New Jersey 08540
phone: (609) 924-5207
Web site: www.matr.org/PDFs/Princeton%20Braillists.pdf

Pro-Med Products
sells a number of anatomical skeleton models. Some of the models available have removable muscles.
Pro-Med Products
6445 Powers Ferry Road, #199
Atlanta, Georgia 30339
toll free: (800) 542-9297
fax: (770) 951-2786
email: info@promedproducts.com
Web site: www.promedproducts.com

Repro-Tronics, Inc.,
provides the Tactile Image Enhancer, Flexi-Paper, Tactile Graphics Designer, and other items.
Dave Skrivanek,
Repro-Tronics, Inc.
75 Carver Avenue
Westwood, New Jersey 07675
phone: (201) 722-1880
toll free: (800) 948-8453
fax: (201) 722-1881
email: info@repro-tronics.com
Web site: www.repro-tronics.com

The Smithsonian’s Hands on History Room
offers children from five to one-hundred-and-five an opportunity to feel replicas of museum artifacts and to learn about how people lived in the 18th and 19th centuries. A variety of activities are available and encompass a wide variety of cultures.
Smithsonian Institute
National Museum of American History:
Hands on History Room:
phone: (202) 357-1481
Web site: http://americanhistory.si.edu/hohr
Teacher Resources Web site: http://americanhistory.si.edu/youmus/rsctour.htm

TAEVIS (Tactile Access to Education for Visually Impaired Students),
a Division of the Office of the Dean of Students at Purdue University. This site contains information on producing tactile graphics, making math and scientific materials accessible, and a catalog from which drawing files can be purchased.
TAEVIS/Purdue University
Office of the Dean of Students,
509 Harrison Street,
West Lafayette, Indiana 47907
phone: (765) 496-2856
Web site: www.taevisonline.purdue.edu

Timberdoodle Company
sells a variety of materials targeted toward Christian homeschoolers. They are dealers for Fishertechnik, K’NEX, and Lego.
Timberdoodle Company
East 1510 Spencer Lake Road
Shelton, Washington 98584
phone: (360) 426-0672
toll free fax: (800) 478-0672
email: mailbag@timberdoodle.com
Web site: www.timberdoodle.com

Touch Graphics
sells the Talking Tactile Tablet, authoring software, and offers consulting services. See their Web site for more details.
Ruth Haggen, Touch Graphics
330 West 38th Street, Suite 1204
New York, New York 10018
phone: (646) 515-3492
toll free: (800) 331-3676
fax: (212) 375-6341
email: sl@touchgraphics.com
Web site: http://www.touchgraphics.com

ViewPlus® Technologies
sells the Tiger family of embossers capable of producing both tactile graphics and Braille.
Rob Sanders, Marketing Coordinator
ViewPlus® Technologies, Inc.
1853 SW Airport Avenue
Corvallis, Oregon 97330
toll free: (866) 836-2184
fax: (541) 738-6505
email: info@viewplus.com
Web site: www.viewplustech.com

WisdomKing.com, Inc.
sells a variety of anatomical models ranging from skeletons, to internal organs.
WisdomKing.com, Inc.
2410 Cades Way, Unit B
Vista, California 92081
toll free: (877) 931-9693
phone: (760) 727-6471
fax: (760) 727-6479
Web site: www.wisdomking.com

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