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October 24, 2002 Fine Arts students design tactile map of the Hall Building



Left to right, students Wetseny Torres and Jeannine Carter, Eleanor Diamond (Montreal Association for the Blind), students Pascale Vonier and Jocelyne Bˇdard, and John Hall, also from the MAB.

by Hypatia Francis

Most of us think of design as aesthetic, not practical, such as high-end fashion or architecture, but as Fine Arts student Jeannine Carter will tell you, design can have a real effect on daily life.

Carter and fellow students Jocelyne Bédard, Pascale Vonier, Stephanie Miller and Wetzeny Torres are working on a design project which they hope will make a real difference for Concordia’s visually impaired students. They have designed a set of tactile maps of the Hall Building and plan to present their project to Concordia’s administration.

The project began as a class assignment in Collaborative Design Art 390, taught by Howard Davies. According to Davies, designers and architects are too often seen as aestheticians. “One of the objectives of this course is to put design students in touch with real situations.”

Each year, Davies puts forward a different design challenge to his students, having them work with a local non-profit group. Last year, they worked with the Fauna Foundation, which provides a home to former research lab chimpanzees, and students designed a chimpanzee play area.

This year, they worked with the Montreal Association for the Blind (MAB). Carter and her group say they learned a lot by working on the project. “We realized that the way we think isn’t the way blind people think.”

As an example of this, Carter points to the original project her group had in mind, a map of the underground city. When her group proposed their plan to the MAB, they were told that such a map would not be practical, as most blind people don’t go into the underground city unaccompanied.

When the group decided to design a set of tactile maps of the Hall Building, they grew aware of how much work would be involved in such a project. They worked with the architectural plans of the building and had to do a complete walk-through of each floor. The result is a set of maps that reflect the permanent structure of the Hall Building and can still be customized.

The maps are designed as teaching tools, to be used in conjunction with a sighted guide who will walk a visually-impaired student through the building. The student would follow the guide and take note of her route on the map. The maps are printed in black and white on swell paper, on which the ink creates a raised impression. They include a simple legend, using both braille and raised lettering.

In coming up with the design, the group spent a great deal of time researching the subject of tactile maps and how they are used. They also had to learn to think of design in a new way. “Learning to think with our hands and not with our eyes was a big challenge,” Bédard said.

Teammate Vonier said another challenge was to keep the design simple and clear. “People are limited in what the can feel. It can’t be too elaborate.”

Although the class project has been handed in, the team plans to continue their work. Having designed maps for the ground floor and the mezzanine of the Hall Building, the group plans to design maps for the remaining floors. They hope that tactile maps will be made available to Concordia’s visually impaired students.