Tactile Maps, Created by Engineering Students, Help Blind Visitors Navigate Alexander Library

RU3D Club Vice President Mitchell Locke and President Michael Levine present tactile maps to Alexander Library. Photo: Nick Romanenko

Students in RU3D club create tactile maps to help visually impaired students at Rutgers

Tactile maps became the newest amenity this week for blind and visually impaired visitors to Rutgers University-New Brunswick’s Alexander Library.

The maps, created through 3D printing, are hard plastic 8-inch squares bearing raised rectangles, lines and arrows along with braille text. The maps of the library’s first floor were created by students in the School of Engineering and the 3D Printing Club (RU3D) led by Howon Lee, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

Lee explores the possibilities of 3D printing to create new problem-solving materials. He previously led a team that used 3D printing to create tactile maps of the Joseph Kohn Training Center, a state-funded facility for the blind and visually impaired in New Brunswick. Lee said the Alexander Library project was largely executed with the help of RU3D club president Michael Levine.

“I recruited students to apply creativity and engineering knowledge in a way that would make our campus community more accessible,” Lee said. “They embraced the challenge of considering the perspective of those who are blind and developing a 3D printed solution.”

The maps, available as handouts at the library’s front desk, feature a legend that uses braille to translate its symbols – squares represent elevators, rectangles are bookshelves, and circles and triangles denote restrooms.

While developing the maps throughout the summer, Lee’s team partnered with Jason Khurdan, manager of central services in the Office of Disability Services, to let blind students test the maps and point out room for improvement. Janet Croft, Rutgers’ librarian for disability services, said library staff helped the engineering team by providing their own maps and blueprints.

“I was excited when the RU3D team approached me with the idea of creating a tactile map of the ground floor of the Alexander Library. What a great way to bring together the relatively new technology of 3D printing and the needs of sight-limited library users,” Croft said.

Lee has been contacted by organizations across the world seeking his guidance in creating tactile maps for malls, buildings and other campuses.  He and the RU3D club will seek to create more braille maps for facilities across Rutgers-New Brunswick in the future.

Story by Cynthia Medina for Rutgers Today
For more information, please contact Cynthia Media at c.medina@rutgers.edu.