Tactile Graphics

Tactile graphics allow visual, graphic information to be conveyed through touch. Tactile graphics are a combination of raised surfaces including textures, lines, Braille labels, points, shapes, and scale (see sample images below). Tactile graphics are frequently made for maps, diagrams, charts, graphs, geometric figures, organic shapes, and building layouts that are difficult to describe in text alone. Students with visual impairments can learn the same information from touching the tactile graphic as a sighted student would from looking at it. Tactile graphics are used mainly by students with visual impairments and sometimes by students with learning disabilities. They can help communicate and convey important visual content to blind students when that visual content cannot be adequately described in a text format.

Important images that cannot be adequately described in a text format should be made into tactile graphics. These often are complex images, like: diagrams, maps, graphs, charts, workflow charts, building layouts, geometric figures, and organic shapes. To determine whether you need a tactile graphic, here are some questions to ask yourself. You don’t need a tactile graphic if:

Otherwise, a tactile graphic would be appropriate, especially if the information is necessary for the student to complete an assignment or participate in class. (Source: The American Foundation for the Blind from Ike Presley & Lucia Hasty. Techniques for Creating and Instructing with Tactile Graphics. Copyright © 2005. New York: American Foundation for the Blind).

Creating Tactile Graphics

Supada Amornchat (supada.amornchat@pcc.edu) from Distance Learning can work with you to create tactile graphics for your students. However, there are limitations to designing a tactile graphic. A tactile graphic shouldn’t have too many details because there needs to be space enough to discern the different demarcations. In order to assist you, she will need the image itself, as well as image descriptions. Each of these requirements is explained in more detail below.

The Image

Some example image times include diagrams, maps, pie charts, flowcharts, 3D graphics.

  1. Simplify the image by eliminating unnecessary graphic elements of the original image (or tell me what can be eliminated). Because you are a subject matter expert, I’d rather let you eliminate the non-essential pieces.
  2. Identify and prioritize how important each graphic element is, so that we know which ones can be eliminated if we have to do so.
  3. Export and send an image file as a .jpg, .png, .gif, or .svg format.

Below is an example of a complex image with "touch points" added:

An image of the VBA Developer's Window.

Here is an example of the same image with all the detail eliminated. The order of each section is revised to make it easy for blind students to naviage.

An image of the VBA Developer's Window, simplified, with touch points.

Image descriptions

The following information will be used to create the tactile graphic:

Sample Images

Here are some sample tactile graphics that Supada created that demonstrate various features that are useful for blind students.

A Latch Diagram

Below is an image of a latch logic circuit diagram:

A latch logic circuit.

Here is an example of the same image converted to a tactile format, with Braille text:

A latch logic circuit in tactile format.

A CPU circuit with Braille tactile graphics

Below is a block diagram of a CPU:

A CPU block diagram.

Here is a tactile version of the graphic:

A CPU block diagram in tactile format.

In this example, line weight and style (dashed vs. solid) have been used to tactilely distinguish between the different busses. Different tactile textures have also been added to each of the functional components of the CPU to help the student distinguish between them. Ideally, the student would also be given a legend that matched these textures to a Braille description of the component.

Accessibility Survival Guide for Instructors, © 2014 by their respective authors, Marc Goodman, Gayathri Iyer, Supada Amornchat, Karen Sorensen, and Susan Watson