Throughout my life I have heard the phrase “a picture is worth 1000 words”. Is this true? Why would a picture be important? I can think of several scenarios where it is just too difficult to explain to someone using only words or text – schematics are the first example that comes to my mind. Following this example, charts and photos are used to describe something in more detail and to help communicate more effectively. So why is it that I have also heard that tactile graphics are just a toy, and that braille is the important focus for assistive technology?! Tactile graphics are NOT a toy – instead, an effective form of communication for complex conversations often seen in STEAM fields of study – Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math.
A few years ago, we had an exercise at ViewPlus Technologies where we all thought of something that we are passionate about and tried to think of the easiest way to explain it to someone with a visual impairment. While some things are easy to describe with just words, if you felt something that is important as a noun, you probably are having a challenging time describing it quickly with deep detail. If you are one who is passionate about the STEAM fields of study, it may be next to impossible to explain clearly using just text or words.
Since this exercise, I have attended a number of shows such as ATiA and CSUN, which highlight the challenges and tools to assist the blind and visually impaired. While attending these shows I have witnessed countless moments of people feeling and exploring our ViewPlus example tactile graphics for the first time, saying things like; “I didn’t know Montana is not on the coast” while exploring our map of the US, or “Oh, they put the fuel tanks on the side of the space shuttles” while exploring our diagram of the Space Shuttle. After reflecting on these experiences, I realize how much I have taken for granted in what I have learned through pictures and graphics in my life. I believe that any schematic, map, chart or graphic can be converted into an effective form of communication and should be recognized as an immensely valuable tool in assistive technology, not just a toy.
In conclusion, I challenge you to take the challenge that we took at ViewPlus… think of something that you are passionate about and try to describe it with as much detail as possible. Is it possible to explain clearly and effectively what you are talking about? What details do you struggle to describe with words? If it is difficult or could be explained better with an image or a graphic, then my point has been made that a picture is worth more than 1000 words and there is an extremely high need for tactile graphics. Another company that has realized the importance of tactile graphics is the “Touching the News” program at San Francisco Lighthouse of the Blind and Visually Impaired. Lighthouse provides free images that can be printed as tactile graphics using an embosser.
Explore the news with San Francisco Lighthouse here https://lighthouse-sf.org/ttn/ and discover an image that interests you – a Ukraine map, Baseball fields, space, COVID, emojis and many more!
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