About Whitney Mooney

22 year old social media junkie with a passion for non-profits.

Braille Takes Flight

On flights everywhere we always hear the same speech, “In a few moments, the flight attendants will be passing around the cabin to offer you hot or cold drinks, as well as a light snack. Alcoholic drinks are also available for purchase. Please be sure to check our menus located in your seat compartment. Now, sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight.” What if the menu wasn’t accessible for you to read? Between the 200 passengers and the 4-6 flight attendants, it’s going to be quite difficult to get the flight attendant to read the menu to you!

Now imagine that all of the menus are available in braille for you to read. The flight attendant comes by and asks you if you would like to order a drink or a snack and you can independently order for yourself. If the couple next to you can order a drink right off the menu, you should have every right to have a menu you can read, too.IMG_1940.JPG

Vice President of Development and Major Gifts, Joe Quintanilla, flies regularly throughout the United States to meet with braille readers. On his flights he is often told that he can have a menu read to him due to a lack of braille menus on airplanes. “Wouldn’t it be great to not have to worry about rushing through TSA while hoping that the lines at the concession stands in the airport terminal are not too long? Wouldn’t it be less stressful if you knew that when you get on the plane there are great food options available to you and that you will actually know what they are, if there were braille menus?” We at National Braille Press are determined to make print materials accessible for blind users.

Proofreader Nallym Bravo loves to travel and experience new things. She finds it disheartening when she cannot assert her independence through reading her own menu. “Life looks extra wonderful from thirty thousand feet. Add some snacks, a cocktail, and a movie, and the route to my next vacation is almost perfect. The one problem? I have no idea what said cocktails, snacks, and movies are. While I do appreciate the in-flight safety information being in braille in case I need it—which I hope I never do—I’ll be glad I read it. But I am far more likely to select a drink than an exit. I can guarantee that if airlines started handing out braille versions of their food and entertainment offerings, I would not be the only blind person to be sipping a glass of their finest wine in the clouds.”

menus

 

How a Tactile Map is Created

Tactile maps are used to guide visually impaired and blind users in new surroundings like airports, museums, and even cities. Tactile maps use raised points, lines, and textures to represent objects, identify rooms, and denote accessible areas. Creating tactile maps at National Braille Press is a labor-intensive process that requires a keen eye for detail and a steady hand.

A print map and final tactile map design

A print map and final tactile map design

Step 1: Transcription

The design of a tactile map starts with a transcriber. Our tactile graphic artist and transcriber, Colleen Rosenberg, explains how the process works:

Whitney:  What are your first steps when making a tactile map?

Colleen:  When I get a floor plan, I say: What is this for? It’s helpful to know if it’s for orientation and mobility or a student using it in college. Is it for someone who is going to be working at a specific location? Everything needs to be exact. That’s really the most important part.

art supplies

Different art supplies are used to create the tactile map’s raised designs

Whitney:  Tell me more about the art of collage.

Colleen:  You can do a lot of things with collage. Collage is building things up with textures. I use sand paper, dots, string or other materials depending on the map. I then glue a specific texture on to create a raised drawing that can be built higher or lower to differentiate a specific area.
Photo caption: Different art supplies are used to create the tactile map’s raised designs.

Step 2: Proofreading

Once the initial design for a tactile map is created, a blind proofreader ensures it is accessible. Nallym Bravo, who regularly proofreads tactile graphics, explains:

Whitney:  What is the most important part of the proofreading step?

Nallym:  It’s really important that it is accurate. A lot of tactile maps are crowded with all kinds of tactile sensations. It’s critical for the graphic to be accurate and delineated cleanly so the maps are efficient to use.

thermoform machine

A thermoform machine used to reproduce tactile graphics

Step 3: Reproduction

Once the tactile map is found to be accurate and easy to read, we prepare it for reproduction. Jorge Antunes, who works in our finishing department and operates the thermoform machine, explains how:

Photo caption: A thermoform machine used to reproduce tactile graphics.

Whitney:  How do you reprint the master collaged copy?

Jorge:  The tactile image is placed on a plate, which has a vacuum underneath. I place a thermoform sheet over the original collaged master copy. The machine is closed tightly to create a nice seal. Heat is applied from the top so the plastic will melt. Once this process happens, you have a reprint copy of the master. This creates the tactile graphic.

National Braille Press creates over 100,000 tactile graphics each year including graphics in textbooks, children’s picture books, and for organizations wishing to make their information more accessible to blind and visually impaired people. Recently, NBP created tactile maps for the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.