Bridges Resource Library

About Tactile Graphics

Updated as of January 28, 2024.

Let’s dive into an area that is often neglected: Tactile Graphics. We know that the ability to read and create Tactile Graphics is important, but we can get so overwhelmed with learning/teaching braille, Nemeth Code, accessible assistive technology (AT), and orientation (O&M) that we end up neglecting Tactile Graphics – even though it can enhance our learning opportunities and our lives. So let’s dive in!

Why Tactile Graphics?

We’ve long heard the adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” While this typically refers to visual items, it holds true for tactile graphics as well.

Graphics, both visual and tactile, provide concrete information that empowers the user to access the information independently and in the order the user chooses. What does that mean?

  • Think about getting directions in an unfamiliar building – from the front door to the nearest bathroom. If we rely only on verbal directions, we have to find a person who knows the building’s layout and who can (hopefully) provide accurate and succinct information.
  • If a map is available, we can use it to determine the layout of the building by ourselves. We can identify where multiple bathrooms are, and we can find other items of interest along the way (like water fountains, stairs, elevators, etc.).
  • The map (a graphic) provides accurate information and puts us in control of how we access and use that information.

Another example is a graph used for information. It might take many, many words to effectively convey the data set forth in a bar graph or a line graph. The graphic (either print or tactile) provides the necessary information, and it illustrates relationships between variables shown on the graph.

What about Alt Text?

Alternative text, also known as “alt text.” is used where a visual graphic conveys information. With simple pictures (such as that of a parent hugging a child), a simple description is sufficient. However, some graphics, like maps and charts, contain much more information, and alt text might not be sufficient.

Most alt text guidelines are based on accessibility requirements for websites. Of course, a website cannot provide a tactile graphic for every person who happens to access the website – alt text words are really the only options in those cases.

In contrast, graphic information provided to a defined group of individuals/directed purpose (such as students in a class or employees at a business) may need more than just alt text. In these situations, it is possible to provide tactile graphics in order to provide blind/low vision individuals access to the graphical information in an equally effective manner.

Making Tactile Graphics on the Fly

Tactile graphics can provide useful information even when they have not been carefully prepared in advance. For example, a math textbook should definitely have properly prepared tactile graphics. However, students might come up with various examples in class during instruction. In cases like these, on-the-fly tactile graphics are usually better than the alternative – no accessible graphic at all.

Here are a few tools to create “on-the-fly” tactile graphics:

Sensational Blackboard

  • Small and lightweight, this tool has a rubber-like substrate on one side
  • Using just a piece of regular copy paper and a ballpoint pen, anyone can draw a graphic and immediately feel (and see) lines drawn
  • Available for $49.95 plus shipping from Sensational Books

TactileDoodle and Draftsman

  • Each of these tools is available from the American Printing House for the Blind (APH)
  • Each uses special plastic film on a rubber-like substrate as well as a stylus for drawing
  • Each has built-in clips to hold the plastic film in place while drawing
  • Available from APH:


  • “A piece of window screen securely fastened with duct tape to a stiff sheet of cardboard [which] can be used under the paper your child is coloring on; the texture of the screen will come through and add tactile feedback to the crayon marks.” From the “Creating Tactile Books” web post of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB).
  • Pros: inexpensive.
  • Cons:
    • Must make your own (or get someone to make it for you)
    • Must use crayons – might not be comfortable for older teens or adults in education and employment settings

Tactile graph paper (from APH)

Tactile marking tools

  • Graph Benders (from APH): $99.24, shipped free matter
  • Graphic Art Tape (from APH): $49.42, shipped free matter – Also available from non-APH sources

Preparing Tactile Graphics

Tactile graphics that are prepared ahead of time can provide better and more nuanced information than on-the-fly graphics. Keys to properly preparing tactile graphics include:

Items of note:

  • It is acceptable for some, early concept development-oriented graphics to be “crafty,” but students need to have opportunities to use standards-based tactile graphics in order to be able to use standardized graphics in textbooks and on high-stakes tests.
  • Be aware of the drawbacks of using particular materials:
    • Glued-on gems or buttons: When the graphic is transported and used, these can fall off. At that point, the student does not have an effective tactile graphic.
    • Wikki Stix:
      • Can fall off easily
      • Can leave a residue on fingers that may damage refreshable braille cells
    • Puffy paint:
      • Can take a long time to dry
      • It’s difficult to make smooth lines and curves with puffy paint

Sources for Professionally-prepared Tactile Graphics

Finished and ready-to-use tactile graphics

The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) sells a wide variety of high-quality tactile graphics, particularly for science. These graphics are available in subject-based notebooks (Geometry, Earth Science, Life Science, Build-A-Cell, Health Education, Basic Anatomy, Human Skeleton, and Basic Science) as well as a “Sense of Science” series (Astronomy, Plants, and Animals).

Sources for tactile graphic templates and other resources

Tools for producing tactile graphics from templates

Please Reach Out ANYTIME!

We at the Bridges Helpdesk and Technical Assistance Center have decades of experience. We love, love LOVE Tactile Graphics; we know that information is power! We are eager to hear from you and to help with anything you need. Please never hesitate to contact us!

Contact the Bridges Helpdesk for More Information

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.

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