Multi-sensory models helps users find their way

Overbrook School for the Blind touch model

The IDeA Center and Touch Graphics, Inc. collaborated to create multi-sensory interactive touch maps and models. These devices improve orientation and mobility for individuals who are blind or visually impaired, as well as people of all abilities.

Traditionally, schools for the blind support incoming students by providing a ‘direct experience’ tour of the campus with the help of an orientation and mobility specialist. Although this technique is effective, it does not support goals of independence and participation that are promoted in this type of learning environment. Schools for the blind can supplement the ‘direct experience’ approach by using multi-sensory maps and models.

From Prototypes to Commercialization

The touch model project began as a development activity in the RERC-UD to improve wayfinding for these schools and their students. Usability evaluations after each prototype iteration resulted in improved technologies and user experiences.

Carrol Center for Blind

Carroll Center for the Blind touch model

The first iteration of the touch model series, the Carroll Center model, features tactile buildings, pathways, and parking lots that are touch responsive. A push button system allows users to search for buildings. Audio information includes the name of the building, its function, and directions from the model location.

Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind

Chicago lighthouse touch model

The Chicago Lighthouse has two models: the first is located in the main entrance lobby; the second is on the second floor. Both models feature a tactile map of the building layout to scale and an overhead projector to display the text.

Perkins School for the Blind

Perkins School for the Blind touch model

Located in the Grousbeck Center, the Perkins model consists of 26 different identifiable buildings across 16 complexes. There are several landscape features including a pond, a picnic area, a playground, and a track, which are also identified when touched. An integrated game helps users learn the campus. 

These commercialized devices now use inexpensive touch screens and enhanced 3D printing. To date, they have been adopted by large tech companies, museums, and a national park.

Google NYC

Tactile Touch Model at the google headquarters in NYC

Overbrook School for the Blind

Closeup of overbrook school for the blind touch model


Smithsonian touch model prototype on display at the Cooper Hewitt Museum


Alcatraz touch model rendering

Reports and Papers