Picture Perfect – Designing Tactile Images

The old adage says ‘ a picture is worth a thousand words’.

Actually unlikely to be true if you’re blind– then it may be better to have the ‘thousand’ words.

Looking at a picture and understanding though vision is an instantaneous, effortless and undemanding process. One that allows us to quickly comprehend and integrate both complex and detailed concepts. By comparison understanding pictures and interpreting their content through touch is a painstaking process, and can never deliver the same shortcut to understanding.

So consideration number one regarding a tactile diagram? Perhaps it’s this: is the image really necessary for understanding – can understanding actually be better delivered in another way.

tactile mapThere are times of course, when a tactile image will be the most useful way to support learning. Then consideration two comes in to play: is the final image easily intelligible as a tactile experience to be helpful.

When creating the picture, this boils down to: stop considering the design from a visual point of view. Obvious if you think about it, but when the majority of us are primarily visual operators, harder than you think in practice.

Having just worked my way through the RNIB Accessible Image training materials on the Load2Learn site, I can bear witness to that. I did get better, but if there’d been a tactile image transgression checker, marking my first attempts at image adapting, I would have been a high scorer in the: committed detail includer; faithful copy transcriber; and multiple texture lover categories.

Having worked with tactile images, I thought I might have started with an advantage – but no. So as well as being both really interesting and enjoyable to complete, the course activities have been surprisingly revelatory and illuminating to my understanding. (If you’re any way involved with using or producing tactile images I would heartily recommend you have a go).

So how do you make tactile pictures understandable to a blind reader?

Having completed the activities, the key points I’ll now be keeping in mind in are to:

  • Identify the key element/s the tactile image will explain
  • Synthesise this into its simplest, best-spaced, and cleanest design.
  • Remove the visual principles eg. perspective, 3D, transparency, occlusion
  • Make good use of lines and textures (and red alert – beware those textures and lines that may look different visually, but actually when it comes to touch, may actually feel similar)
  • Investigate the image in an organised and logical sequence.

And be prepared to use some of those ‘thousand words’ to provide a supplementary image navigation description:

  • Step 1- say what the image is in one sentence
  • Step 2 – give a brief summary of what the image is and where the important elements can be found.
  • Step 3 – Locate each element of the picture and describe the detail in more depth eg. the appearance and/or function of the different parts.
  • Step 4- End with a short summary and if appropriate some wider background information that further explains the image content or context.

As part of my completion of the Unit 9 Inclusive technologies for Reading Course I had to submit a redrafted tactile image. If you fancy a peek, it’s attached below: the original RNIB tactile image which was used for the redrawing exercise; reasons behind any changes; my version of a new draft tactile image; and an accompanying navigation description.

Though unfortunately the training didn’t improve my artistic skills, I hope that the final pic indicates the application of some of my new awareness.

Download File: Assessing and changing a tactile image


‘All Aboard’ Inclusive Technologies for Reading

Picture of a road map entitled a change of place imparts new vigor to the mind

A change of place imparts new vigor to the mind – photo by katerha on Flickr

Pre planning

I have to say I didn’t start the journey on the Inclusive Technologies for Reading course with any particular thoughts or expectations. I just noticed that it was to do with IT (tick for area of interest), supporting those with print disabilities (tick for an area in which I wanted to learn more), and that as a pilot course it was free (another tick in these times of limited funding for course participation…).

So when I say the course has surpassed my expectations it certainly has – but it would also have genuinely done so if my expectations were set high to begin with.

Starting point

I was aware that with developments in assistive technology, there was massive potential for improvement in access to the curriculum for pupils with a visual impairment. The pupils with whom I worked I already used various technology eg; VI specific software; certain shortcut keys for use with Word and the general Windows environment; laptops to produce their work; DAISY audio books on a DAISY player etc. However, I was conscious that this was now really the tip of the iceberg. I knew it was important to learn more, but was unsure what direction to take and how to structure the path of any learning.

The road map

The course has moved through a comprehensive itinerary of PLN building, Structured Documents, Text to Speech, Productivity, Ebooks, Print Disability Theory and Practice, and  concludes with two additional destinations: for me, Tactile/Simplified Images and DAISY synchronised text and audio, from a choice of a further six options*. These core components (accessed through the innovative mediums of learning stations, videos, quizzes, webinars, twitter socials, google docs and hangouts) provided the framework and direction of the forward travel, with encouragement and support also provided within each unit, for individualised excursions to areas relevant to particular learning interests.

The latter generated a really useful ‘trip advisor’ function, as new discoveries and recommendations from other course members were posted on, through the course shared links, participants blogs and twitter #itr12.

Feedback on posted work from other course participants was also really appreciated, keeping any leanings towards getting off at the ‘Easier Life Stop’ at bay.

Photo diary

Snapshot of the wider impact so far (clicking on the pic opens it in larger form)

mind map snapshot of learning and wider effects: work with VI pupils, new ideas; technical confidence; staff training

The place I am now

Trying to encapsulate what I’ve learnt feels similar to answering that question ‘how long is a piece of string?’. I just know that on reaching the end of the course: how I feel I can now support the VI pupils and staff with whom I work; how I think about organising that support; and how confident I am to do so, has changed exponentially.

Postcard from (near) the end

In my first blog post, I wrote that I hoped to be able to say a ‘wish you were here’ at the end of the course, and having nearly arrived, (rather disheveled and definitely bleary eyed), I can say that undoubtedly reflects my sentiments.

So thanks Dominic and Justine (and to the other course participants)– I hope the course funding is renewed and other educators gain the same experience, for as I am already seeing in practice: for pupils with print disabilities, the subsequent improvements in their access to the variety of assistive technologies, has a real potential to significantly improve both their learning experience and their independence.

*(Optional Units: Software for VI students; Tactile/Simplified Images; Software and hardware for supporting active reading; Speech Recognition; DAISY synchronised text and audio; Assistive technologies for people with physical disabilities).

Visually Impaired? Check for these helpful ebook reader features

When choosing an ebook reader is there such a thing as a perfect fit?

Most people I know have multiple devices, usually a phone, e-ink device or tablet, they alternate between dependent on need ie, circumstances, type of ebook etc. All have their pros and cons. However, as the majority of these users have good vision, then all the aforementioned devices are likely to be, if not a perfect fit, then at least a good fit.

So what makes a good fit if you’re a visually impaired user?

It’s important to note that for many VI users, access to ebooks is a major step forward in terms of both reading accessibility and choice. However, certain ebook reader features can definitely help with the reading experience, so it may be useful to check which of the features listed below is available on the device.

(As part of the checklist compilation activity, I tested an iPad and 2 Kindles: my Kindle keyboard, and a Kindle Touch -the only 2 e-ink Kindle models with audio capabilities)

I’ve included a PDF version of the checklist at the bottom of the post, for access in larger form.

Checklist of  ebook reader features useful for VI access

Checklist of useful VI ebook reader features

*navigation mechanisms

  • iPad -Table of contents (TOC), Search, slider, move to page, Xray with Kindle app and ebooks.
  • Kindle Keyboard: TOC, Search, button activated move by chapter function (dependent on book), move to location.
  • Kindle Touch: TOC, Search, finger swipe move by chapter function (dependent on book), move to location, Xray.

Download file :Checklist of ebook reader features useful for VI access

Ebooks -Reading for Free

picture of an ebook reader lying on a table

Book: picture by inconvergent on Flickr

What’s not to like about an ebook?

They’re easily portable: available for download 24/7 and for those who have a print disability, they offer a range of access options that can revolutionise their reading experience. There’s also the added bonus that some ebooks are even available for free.

Even on a big commercial company website such as Amazon, you can find thousands of ebooks that are available at no cost. There’s a list of their top 100 free ebooks  on the Amazon Kindle ebook page (right hand side)  and by using Jungle Search, a search engine designed for searching at Amazon, you can access an even wider choice.

There are also a range of other places where downloading or accessing an ebook comes with a £0.00 price tag.

Many local libraries now offer an ebook loan service. Either find your local library and contact them directly, or check the listing of 48 UK libraries offering the service, compiled by Paul Stainthope. You can also try the ReadEasy online digital library, and for kids, the ebook online Children’s International Digital Library . Whilst, for those who find print difficult to access, there are flexible format digital book options available at the Seeingear library.

Project Gutenberg – the first producer of free ebooks, has a library thousands of classic books, whilst Bartleby.com, offers one of the largest and oldest free full-text collections of verse on the web. MobileRead Wiki also offers dozens of free Harvard classic, as well as a comprehensive listing of where to find free ebook downloads or sites where you can read them online.

Over on the WikiBooks site there’s an extensive collection of open content textbooks , whilst on Wiki Junior you can find a library of non-fiction books for children from birth to age 12.

Looking for something educational? Then Open Educational Resources (OER) hosts thousands of resources for teachers, Bookboon offers textbooks for older students (as well as travel guides), whilst you can even find some free Oxford reading Tree ebooks at Oxford Owl .

There are numerous sites out there that offer access to free ebooks, even for specific genres of reading eg. Science fiction and fantasy (Baen) or particular areas of interest (FanFiction). So, it’s definitely never been easier to become interested in reading.

Shortcut Keys Cue Cards- Gmail and WordTalk

I actually find that the keyboard shortcuts for Gmail are so simple and convenient that I’m using them quite a lot – anything for an easy email life…..

And if you use WordTalk, the shortcut cue card is a re-adapted version of the original Load2learn one.

Download file: Gmail and WordTalk Accessibility Cue Cards

If you’d like to improve computer productivity and make work more accessible for people with print disabilities, you can also find a wide range of other shortcut cue cards at Load2Learn

Productivity Reflections

Picture of new column view organisation of files and folders

New organisation of files and folders

Pic of how files and documents were originally organised

Original organisation of files and folders

(Clicking on the pictures enables full size view)

When asked what was the best advice she’s ever received, in an article about how she worked, Tessa Miller from Lifehackers, said her dad told her: ‘In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few. Always begin, again and again. (An idea from Shunryu Suzuki’s classic Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.)’

This idea certainly resonated with me when working through the ITR12 Unit 5 on Productivity. When it comes to things we do routinely, we all tend to fall into the familiar pattern and then rarely question if there could be a better way of doing them.

Obviously there is some advantage to this, in that doing something we’re accustomed to takes very little of our effort or thought. However, when it comes to technology, where things are being so constantly expanded, updated and improved, we could be doing ourselves a disadvantage.

The Eye-Opener
Oddly enough, this most obviously became apparent to me when doing what seems like one of the more ordinary set Unit tasks: reviewing the way the documents and files related to the course were sorted out.

When I started using my Mac (about 6/7 years ago) I’d opted for a list view, and either used sorting by name or date to find them. With my Load2Learn course work and links, I’d simply loosely sorted each Units work into a designated blue folder and followed the usual routine when trying to relocate anything I wanted. (see pic at top left hand side of post for the original layout).

Not an ineffective way of doing things, but certainly as I found out, a limited way, and one that, it became apparent, had actually become inefficient and was actually costing me time and effort.  

Just through being asked to review this habitual practice, (and effectively put myself in the ‘mind frame of a beginner’), I’ve discovered how many more, very useful options there are available.

(Clicking on the pictures enables full size view)

Now, if I want to: change my viewing options, so it’s simpler to follow a file/document pathway- I can do it; sort by kind of document – I can do it; change the size of text of file and documents –it can be done; colour code my files to make them more distinct – I can do that as well. And these are just a few of the available options that are now making how I work easier (see pic at top right hand side of post for the new organization of Load2Learn coursework).

From Little Things……..

So how’s this going to influence how I work in a wider context?

It’s made me realize that an organisational skills programme for pupils with a visual impairment definitely needs to include a component on organization of work within IT –something I’d never really considered before, but which I now see is important.

It’s also flagged up how critical it is to regularly consider any of my customary support programmes, but particularly when related to IT, and ask ‘Is this working – is there now something available that means it could be done better’.


If you’d like some ideas about files and how to organise them, then the following Load2Learn video is a good place to start

Organizing downloaded files – L2L Screencast

Text to Speech Quiz

Picture of 2 question marks

Questions: photo by valeriebb on Flickr

I’ve learnt something new on each of the ITR12 members’ ‘Text to Speech’ quizzes I’ve managed to try.

They’ve covered a lot, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed I’ve managed to include some new stuff.

Good luck ( less than 5/10 means extra homework and a resit…)

take the : Talking Text Quiz

Links below, to the other ITR12 course participants Text to Speech quizzes I’ve tried:


Learning Spaces



Information Junkie