Accessible curricular materials are needed for school success, but curricular materials include much, more than documents, slide presentations, and spreadsheets. Graphics, including graphs, pictures, maps, etc. represent a growing portion of materials teachers use to impart information and which they expect students to use to show mastery of academic concepts.
Now, more than ever before, blind/low vision students need access to high-quality tactile graphics. Alt text, alone, is rarely enough; the instructor’s choice to use a graphic rather than words is evidence that the graphic is educationally necessary—for ALL students in the class.
When do you need a tactile graphic?
The answer to the question is easy: You need a tactile graphic every time non-disabled students are provided with graphics to convey academic information. Thus, graphics used for decoration only need not be made into tactile graphics, but, for most other purposes, they do.
Alt text is one tool that may be used to describe a graphic. However, alt text does not necessarily replace a tactile graphic. A good rule of thumb is this: If the alt text, alone, is not sufficient for nondisabled students, then it is similarly not sufficient for blind/low vision students.
What are tactile graphics made of?
There are many ways to create tactile graphics. Swell paper and braille embossers can be used to create two-dimensional, raised-line tactile graphics. Less formal means of creating tactile graphics include using “arts and crafts” materials, such as textured paper, foam, felt, sandpaper, pipe cleaners, Wikki-stix, and 3-D pens. Tactile graphics can also be made “on the fly” using screen boards (homemade tactile drawing boards), specialized drawing tools (like the inTACT Sketchpad, the Draftsman, and the TactileDoodle, all of which use specialized plastic film as “paper”), tactile graphic line slates, and the Sensational Blackboard (which uses regular copy paper and a regular ballpoint pen).
Additionally, three-dimensional models are an important, and often forgotten, aspect of tactile graphics. While this post focuses on two-dimensional. Raised-line drawings, consider whether the use of 3-D models might be useful to incorporate into the curriculum, especially when introducing new concepts. Please feel free to contact the Bridges Helpdesk with any questions or concerns—especially if you are a student because it is hard for you to know if a 3-D model will help you understand the concept given that you don’t know what the concept is yet.
Are there standards for tactile graphics?
Tactile graphic standards
YES! The Braille Authority of North America (BANA—the group that sets forth standards for literary braille, Nemeth Code, and Music Braille) has published standards for tactile graphics, called Guidelines and Standards for Tactile Graphics, 2010. These standards are available for free download, but they may also be purchased from the American Printing House for the Blind (APH).
- Formats available for free download:
- Online access to HTML Tactile Graphics Standards
- Formats available for purchase from APH:
Is it OK to make/use tactile graphics that don’t meet the BANA standards?
Yes, there can be good reasons to make non-standard tactile graphics. However, the use of non-standard tactile should be based on the student’s educational needs—not based on poor planning by teachers and schools. Two examples of this are:
- Graphics used for introduction to a concept. While standard, commercially available tactile graphics are of high quality, sometimes a student needs a graphic that is more individualized to the student. Once the student understands the concept, the student will be able to utilize standardized graphics.
- Extra practice. Perhaps the Geometry textbook provides several examples, but more are used in class (and maybe students are encouraged to create their own in class). In such a situation, it may not be possible to make all the needed tactile graphics before class. It is far better to provide tactile graphics made “on the fly” than to withhold tactile graphics from the student.
Is it important to have experience with tactile graphics that DO meet the BANA standards?
Yes. Standardized tactile graphics are what is used in textbooks and on standardized tests. If students do not have the opportunity to learn and master reading standardized tactile graphics during the school year, they will likely have unnecessary difficulties when taking high-stakes tests.
Are pre-made tactile graphics available?
Yes. There are both free and fee-based sources of tactile graphics.
Fee-based sources of tactile graphics
Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:
- Our Accessible web form
- Email: Helpdesk@imagemd.org
- Text: Send to: (410) 305-9199
- Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page or Facebook Messenger
- Voice mail: Call (443) 320-4003, leave a voice mail message, and we will return your call
This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.