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Education Displays Graphics Software

Computing for Near-Blind Children? 209

mjpaci asks: "One of my co-workers has a son, age 12, who is visually impaired among other problems. He is smart, charismatic, and funny--an all around good kid. Due to complications during his mother's pregnancy, he is near-blind. His father is a saint and spends many hours each night helping his child with homework. The problem is that the child is now taking Social Studies in junior high and has great trouble with geography as he cannot read the maps in the book even with his 'overhead visualizer.' Can Slashdot help me help this child?"
"One of my clients has donated 21" monitors to him in the past and they have helped. The real rub is, even with the large monitors, the child cannot read maps when zoomed-in on. The father has looked to the end of the earth for good, hi-res maps that can be magnified without great pixelization. Are there any good sources out there for hi-res maps for educational purposes or a software package that could help? Questions like: Find the largest city on the Mississippi River and what is the Capitol of the South American country to the west of Surinam are hard for the child as his view of the map is very constrained."
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Computing for Near-Blind Children?

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  • by BWJones ( 18351 ) * on Friday October 01, 2004 @07:31PM (#10409943) Homepage Journal
    This is part of what truly makes the Slashdot community great, and why I am proud to be a part of it. Geeks helping out others by poling a resource that has a truly flabbergasting diversity of combined knowledge. This question hits a bit close to home as my research is centered around vision and vision rescue strategies, but this is a more immediate need that I truly hope somebody here can help with.

    Just to clarify: I am not sure if you are asking for screen reader software or not as part of the solution? If so, there are a number of alternatives for Windows (fairly pricey), but the next version of OS X will have a built in screen reader solution! combined with other visual aids that will help the blind and near blind use their computer systems without having to invest in another solution.

    For the maps, there are a number of high resolution maps available from the USGS which can be obtained in digital form here [http] and in atlas form here [nationalatlas.gov]. In addition the CIA world factbook [cia.gov] is a nice resource for kids with text and maps that can be remapped with higher resolution.

    Finally, a last resort would be Adobe Photoshop. You can take any map or image and simply resize the image with a much higher resolution (say take a map from 72dpi to 600 or 1200 dpi). If there is enough information in the original image to interpret, this might be a good solution to allowing one to zoom in images and maps for ease of interpretation.

    • by flewp ( 458359 ) on Friday October 01, 2004 @07:41PM (#10410015)
      Finally, a last resort would be Adobe Photoshop. You can take any map or image and simply resize the image with a much higher resolution (say take a map from 72dpi to 600 or 1200 dpi). If there is enough information in the original image to interpret, this might be a good solution to allowing one to zoom in images and maps for ease of interpretation.

      Changing the DPI doesn't really make the image any more high resolution. You'll still end up with pixelation. It works better than simply blowing up an image by zooming in, but it's not going to allow you to actually blow the image up flawlessly.
      • by BWJones ( 18351 ) * on Friday October 01, 2004 @07:50PM (#10410073) Homepage Journal
        Changing the DPI doesn't really make the image any more high resolution.

        I absolutely agree. However the issue in geography and geographic information systems often times is how many pixels represent the image. If you have enough pixels, there are operations that can be performed to enhance detail. Yes, your final image will be lossy in effect by resizing it and you will never be able to extract more information than is originally present (unless you have access to multispectral data), but it will be possible to more easily determine edges and relationships from one point to another.

        • I don't know anything about blindness, but do know something about being visipon impaired, 'cause I'm lucky to still be able to get 85% vision with my glasses/contacts.

          So what I'd do with photoshop (appart from resizing with a couple of filters) is to change the colours around so you get some mayor contrast going on. White for the countries, purple for the borders, or something like that.

          Anyway, without knowing more about the particular way in which this kid /can/ percieve, I'm not much more help, really.
    • According to a visually-impaired friend of mine who is testing the new OS X accessibility tools, they're not up to par with the solutions available for Windows a the moment.
    • by RatPh!nk ( 216977 ) <[ratpH1nk] [at] [gMail.com]> on Friday October 01, 2004 @08:37PM (#10410323)
      Just to clarify: I am not sure if you are asking for screen reader software or not as part of the solution? If so, there are a number of alternatives for Windows (fairly pricey), but the next version of OS X will have a built in screen reader solution! combined with other visual aids that will help the blind and near blind use their computer systems without having to invest in another solution.

      Along those lines, I think it would be a good idea to check out Apple's Accessibility Page. [apple.com] It does a fairly good job with the technologies that are currently in OS X and gives information on OS X's compliance with Section 508 of the Workforce Investment Act Of 1998 or Rehabilitation Act. (IIRC)

      Apple also does a good job linking to third party software from that page. I think it would be definitely worth a look, good luck and let us know how it turns out!

    • ... or something similar. He can use it to scan the map along the Mississippi River or whatever feature is given to place his search.
    • In the old pre-electronic days, blind kids were often given maps cut out of card or thin wood which allows the features to be felt rather than read.

      There are a few ways to achieve this with from digital sources including:

      NC milling of shapes into plastic, wook etc.

      PCB etching techniques.

      The use of piezo electric material which changes size/shape when a voltage is applied.

      • To memorize map shapes by touch is hard. Not to be disencouraged but your sense of touch has to be extremely accustomed to recognition. I did an exercise where we learned the campus room numbers by touch, kind of live a class session visually impaired. I swear, it was unbelievably frustrating. It wasn't until afterwards that people suggested voice boxes be installed if pressed. They know the agony.

  • by kentmartin ( 244833 ) * on Friday October 01, 2004 @07:32PM (#10409950) Homepage
    I use Garmin's Mapsource [garmin.com] quite a bit which, whilst not being the prettiest, turns detail off as you zoom out and adds it as you zoom in, which sounds like it could be helpful.

    It isn't cheap, but, I am sure if you contacted their PR department and explained what you wanted to do with it, they would have a hard time coming off as anything other than heartless and moneygrabbing should you they refuse to give you a gratis/cheap copy.

    The North American web demo [garmin.com] of their maps (link near the top right) does similar and may even do the trick, and, is free to use.

    As for large screen helping, a cheap projector and a dark room would be a better logical alternative than a big screen it would seem to me, but then again, I hardly know whereof I speak.
    • I agree. Programs like Mapsource are mostly vector-based, so zooming in doesn't lose any detail.

      The only concern would be if you can get the fonts big enough to read.

      Also, PDF maps would usually be vector-based.

      I also was going to recommend a projector. Preferably 1024x768 or better, with a decent screen.

      I don't know where this kid is going to school, but the school should be trying to accomodate him.

      I'm suprised an overhead projector wouldn't work with a printed atlas.
      You might need a dark room and a
  • by captnitro ( 160231 ) * on Friday October 01, 2004 @07:34PM (#10409958)
    I feel for your coworker's predicament. My mother and brother have had a total of about fifteen surgeries between them to correct vision problems mostly stemming from retinas that have a tendency to detach, and complicatons thereof. The condition has many of the symptoms of a connective tissue disorder called Stichler-Sachs, but not all. In many cases, it boils down to a combination of the aforementioned, and a nearsightedness that puts a strain on the eye from its length. I got away with one surgery twenty years ago, while my mom and brother have basic vision of shapes and/or colors (with no semblance of stability in sight).

    Regardless, I've been through much of this before. First off, make sure his school is accomodating with a IEP (individualized education program)/504 setup. There are many things you can do, but without help from the school, it's won't help. Many accomodations can be made "behind the scenes" and without making the child self-conscious. There are some things that the child can't totally hide, and in this case a sense of humor is particularly helpful.

    Many times, the school can obtain (at the school's expense) extra-large versions of books, graphics, diagrams and the like. I know when I was a kid, we had a few raised (molded) topographical maps (? somebody help me out, I can't think of what the right description is) sitting around. I know they also have globes, but they may not be as "high-resolution" if he's studying, say, state geography. They're also not that difficult to make, which can be a family project. The point is to cover all the bases by connecting knowledge with touch and what little sight he may have: think teaching art via texture and collage and sculpture as opposed to traditional "visibles".

    In this case, geography may require a rewritten or oral test for the child. Since he had to learn it differently, it may have to be tested differently. YMMV based on what the parents and educator think is best.

    Many different ideas can fun or degrading, depending on how severe the disability is; that's true of many accomodations, so it's important to be sensitive to the child's attitude, especially at this age, and moreso in a few years.

    Whatever your suggestion and the parents' decision, it won't be a quick fix; this is a long road. I know from experience, however, that with a lot of support, it's definitely doable. I wish you the best of luck. (I will gladly answer questions if you e-mail or reply to this post.)
    • by SaV ( 261390 ) on Friday October 01, 2004 @07:55PM (#10410105)
      I would also suggest that for testing geography the teacher might make transparencies and put them on an overhead projecter then verbally ask the student to identify them based on color, etc. This might require after school work, but it might help retain the visual impact of geography without resorting to Braille.
      • by captnitro ( 160231 ) * on Friday October 01, 2004 @08:15PM (#10410207)
        Absolutely, mod parent up! The big problem with "resorting" to braille or VR displays and so many of the solutions others have suggested -- is psychological; it's something that makes the kid different from other kids. And he is, but there's no reason to highlight it needlessly.

        There is a very careful balance to be had in educational accomodation that many don't understand: in theory "you can help a child hard of hearing by yelling louder at him" -- but if he's embarassed for his challenge, if he's singled out, he won't use the accomodation.

        My brother, in junior high, got poor grades for the first quarter, and being an incredibly bright kid, nobody knew why, until we realized his "big books" were staying at home. During class, when the teacher asked to get out the textbooks, he brought out the normal-sized one, which of course he couldn't read. He was embarassed at having to carry an 11x14-size collection of schoolbook chapters around with text sizes ripped from "Spot Goes To School".

        I think brightly projected transparencies would be an ideal way to display maps without bringing attention in school to his disability.

        • The big problem with "resorting" to braille or VR displays and so many of the solutions others have suggested -- is psychological; it's something that makes the kid different from other kids. And he is, but there's no reason to highlight it needlessly.

          Needlessly? The kid is having problems with geography, geography (at least the map variant of it) is a very visual subject. This is EXACTLY the time you just might need to "resort" to brail, or some kind of relief map or whatever. There's no shame in be
          • by captnitro ( 160231 ) * on Saturday October 02, 2004 @12:06AM (#10411191)
            Fair point indeed!

            My comment was specific to instruction within the classroom. Outside the classroom there's quite a bit you can do, inside, a kid with the big books or magnifiers can get singled out, and as I said, a child singled out for their instructional accomodation will sometimes decline to use it at all. This varies depending on the social atmosphere of the school.

            Geography is a visual subject like math or English or any other subject is, like you said. The equations and symbols and words matter, but what's more important is what those equations and symbols and words mean rather than what's happening on paper. But if we say deaf children will have an overly difficult time in music class, it puts the burden on the child to perform up to the standards of the majority. But in inclusionary classrooms, you want to ask not what the child can or can't do, but what they can bring to the table. In this case, geography is more than about rivers and lakes and mountains -- perhaps the teacher, with him, can focus on the human geographic aspect, or use that aspect to help him learn the subject material. But Braille is a big step. We're talking about a completely different language here.

            There isn't any shame in being visually impaired, and I know that because as my original post said, my mother or brother are both visually impaired, as to some extent, am I. But 12 year olds don't know that, and we're not trying to hide it, but we are trying to make less of a distinction between him and the other students.

            Say you have a child with cerebral palsy. To get from class to class, he could use a motorized wheelchair. Or, his teachers could pick him up and carry him from class to class, while the principal clears the halls with a bright orange megaphone. Now, the kid is having problems with walking. Walking is a very physical subject. And nobody is pretending the kid can't walk, or trying to hide it.

            But: does the megaphone help the kid get to class better than the wheelchair? No, he gets to class either way.

            Does it make him different from the other kids who, because of the treatment, may ostracize him? Probably. It's needlessly highlighting his difference, and that's a greater crime than trying to hide it. That's what I meant.

            In this case, there are plenty of things INSIDE the classroom that can happen that will measurably improve learning without bringing active attention to his disability. No offense, but Braille is not one of them; that's like being given textbooks in French because you have dyslexia. He probably already has big books, which for text will suffice; graphics will probably require some creative learning.

            Outside the classroom, relief maps, among other things, as I suggested in the original post, are a good idea. For children with disabilities, the road to educational success really only starts in the school, and there are many more things one can do at home, like break out a giant topo map made of playdoh, like I did when I was little. :)
        • Everyone,

          I am visually impaired and I grew up carrying around the gigantic textbooks you all speak about. The atlas I used was gigantic. The dictionary was equally heavy. But I used them even with the offhand comments from my classmates.

          I grew up using the CCTV enlargers and even one of the very first Kurzweil reading machines.

          You couldn't push a Kurzweil around back then, but I would often push the CCTV from class or have it moved to different areas depending when I needed it. Science on Tuesday,
    • by mblase ( 200735 ) on Friday October 01, 2004 @08:31PM (#10410286)
      My stepdaughter is in a similar predicament as the poster. Her vision isn't as bad as "near-blind", but one eye is near-blind and the other is severely nearsighted.

      My wife has always been her primary advocate in school, but we've done much of what the parent poster has done: get an IEP (even though she's at a private school which isn't required to follow an IEP, they do so), and use it to get enlarged books (they're free) and worksheets, and special consideration for homework (she's only required to do half as many math problems, for instance) and tests (her time limits are always extended).

      She's tried electronic devices to enlarge her books and papers, but since she had to wheel it from classroom to classroom it was both unwieldy and very obvious -- not a good thing for a peer-conscious preteen. So yes, they have those devices and they work, but they're not as good as simply enlarging the books and papers. (I look forward to the day when all the textbooks come on an electronic tablet which can simply enlarge the font and/or invert the black and white as needed.)

      Telling your child to have a sense of humor about such a situation is easier said than done; I'm sure we all remember how cruel kids of any age can be. The better thing to do is, as a parent, be understanding, comfortable, and above all be a strong advocate for his/her needs. Don't expect your child to speak up when he/she needs special assistance, because that may not be in his/her nature. But do ask him/her about any problems in the classroom and go to the teachers, or principal if necessary, yourself to correct it.
    • by shoesaphone ( 706480 ) on Friday October 01, 2004 @08:36PM (#10410316) Homepage
      The American Printing House for the Blind, http://www.aph.org/ [aph.org], is a great resource for "adapted educational" products. And not just in Braille but also large-print, audio, tactile, software, etc. Their online catalog includes products to recommend to your school.

      I'm not affiliated with them, but I do have dear friends that work there. APH is a non-profit (so they're not in it for the money).

    • Speaking of schools and IEPs and dealing with special needs, one of the best schools for special needs kids is The Little Light House [littlelighthouse.org]. It is a private tuition-free school (not funded by the state or United Way, either), and initially started to serve blind children, although they serve pretty much every disability now. It's probably not that useful for your situation -- it's for kids under 7 -- but it is waaay better than state special needs education.

      This Saturday is a special event called mini-laps --
    • The condition has many of the symptoms of a connective tissue disorder called Stichler-Sachs, but not all
      I'm trying to look this up, but Google shows no matches. Is it something incredibly rare, or a misspelling? If the latter, does anyone know the correct one?
  • by Marxist Hacker 42 ( 638312 ) * <seebert42@gmail.com> on Friday October 01, 2004 @07:36PM (#10409980) Homepage Journal
    Seems to me that would be the ultimate solution. If you're not familiar with the device, a braile monitor uses steel pins at different heights on a flat, horizontal field to represent colors in a computer graphic. It seems to me that would be the solution required here- but I'm not sure where to get one (as I'm not blind myself) nor have I seen one in several years. You might check out a few schools for the blind and see if this technology is still available.
  • by royli57 ( 742263 ) on Friday October 01, 2004 @07:37PM (#10409983)
    I got Microsoft streets and trips for use with my GPS device. The nice thing about these maps is that they are meant to be used down to the street level and even let you select every available address in America.

    Within the US, you can view the entire nation and zoom in as much as you need. Imagine how PDF files work - the information is stored in database and is not pixelated by maginifcation. This would help for any US maps.

    For international, the same suite (Streets and trips 2004) works on the city level, but only has major streets. You would have to find the speicific maps you are looking for.
    • The nice thing about these maps is that they are meant to be used down to the street level and even let you select every available address in America.

      Geography is not about street maps. It uses topographical maps. Street maps are vector maps while topographical maps are raster, *always*. This has to do with the nature of the measurements.

      You can get topographical maps down to 30m resolusion though (NASA shuttle radar project a few years ago, now at USGS here [usgs.gov]

    • I'll second Streets and Trips. It's VERY nice if you use Windows (which that, and the fact that my Linux box is REALLY old, are the reasons it's not on there). Microsoft has a few gems in there...

      MapPoint might be better, especially considering the statistical information it's got. Streets & Trips is basically a home version of MapPoint. The only problem is the pricing on MapPoint isn't that great. MapPoint is, unfortunately, not available in an academic version (MS academic versions are rarely above $
  • ... if such a thing exists, but what about a 3D topographical globe/map/what-have-you? Something with state/nationality borders included perhaps. Like I said, I don't know if such a thing exists, but I recall some globes having topographical features (raised mountains, oceans, the Great Lakes, etc.) included as features.
    • I know that there are large puzzles of at least the 50 states, probably Europe and other regions exist.

      The puzzles that I'm thinking of are large wooden cutouts of a state or region, and would be great for learning by touch the shapes of states/countries. If you glued them down near eache other, possibly a spatial relation between them could be formed as well.

      We had one of these big floor puzzles in kindergarten. It was a riot!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 01, 2004 @07:40PM (#10410008)
    Perhaps you could contact that guy from MIT who has all of the implants and stuff. The "bionic man". I'm not trying to be silly here, but it may be possible that he or someone he could put you in touch with would be able to help the child (or even associate with him on the basis of a project) with some sort of augmentation.

    I don't necessarily mean some sort of physical augmentation - but some sort of technical assistance that would help paint images onto his retina in a way that he could see the material on a computer, through an adapter, in the same way that some of the new "head monitors" do.

    It's a long shot, granted - but it might be worth a shot? If there isn't a solution out there now, get the kid and father in touch with people on the foreront of technology and science and they could possibly actively pursue a solution with interested professionals.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 01, 2004 @07:41PM (#10410014)
    It'll take down another avenue for learning.
  • Maps (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bomb_number_20 ( 168641 ) on Friday October 01, 2004 @07:42PM (#10410022)
    How about a relief map of the world that is also a puzzle. Ocean names are in raised text, and the continents are inset into the board. Each piece of the puzzle is a country in the continent.

    By feeling your way around the oceans, you can feel the 'holes' where the continents go. Then you fit the pieces into the holes, learning which countries go with which continents as well as geographical features.

    Maybe breaking it up into smaller pieces will make building a larger picture in the mind easier.
  • It sounds like this is exactly what scaled vector graphics (the SVG format) was designed to address.

    But a world map? That'll be one huMONGous SVG file!
  • Check out... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by j_cavera ( 758777 ) on Friday October 01, 2004 @07:45PM (#10410041)
    a company called GH, LLC [ghbraille.com]. The specialize in converting educational materials from traditional sources into raised print -- braille text and raised lines for diagrams. This is for totally blind individuals (obviously) but should serve your child as they would be able to feel raised maps. Note that I am not affiliated with them - just knew some people who worked there.

    Another great resource is the Alliance for Technology Access [ataccess.org]. They have directories of companies that create technologies for handicapped individuals.

    Good luck.
  • by donald954 ( 784977 ) on Friday October 01, 2004 @07:45PM (#10410043)
    the RNS marine mapping system includes a vector based mapping system that zooms to any level, can be blown up, ect. www.raytech.com I use this on my boat :).
  • Ever heard of BATS? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SmithG ( 688785 ) on Friday October 01, 2004 @07:45PM (#10410045)
    This might be of interest to you. Not sure how visually impaired the kid is, but this is for those with no sight at all. BATS [unc.edu]
    • by SmithG ( 688785 ) on Friday October 01, 2004 @07:57PM (#10410118)
      I suppose I'll elaborate a bit. BATS is a project that uses auditory clues and a pointing device (like a mouse) to let blind people explore maps. An example from this pdf [unc.edu] says that you could have your cursor positioned with a large body of water just to the left, in which case the user would hear sounds of water and the name of the body coming from their left side (I suppose it requires stereo sound). It sounds pretty neat, and may be just what is needed for this kid. Not sure what the availability of maps for it is like, but you can download the software from the link I provided above. It's funny that this came up, because I had just heard some co-workers talking about BATS the other day (one of them had worked on it apparently). Anyway, hope this helps.
  • by Ironsides ( 739422 ) on Friday October 01, 2004 @07:47PM (#10410054) Homepage Journal
    About the only thing I can think of is to make a "3D" map. I don't mean a relief map. Take an existing map, and put it on carboard or something. Put something along the borders that raises it up. Tulip Paint [duncancrafts.com] (a really thick paint applied like Icing), Silicon Glue or wire should work for this. Essentially, think along the lines of helping out someone who is completely blind.

    Also, it might be possible to take a couple of those monitor, run them through a splitter and have each one displaying 1/4 of the picture.
  • by IvyMike ( 178408 ) on Friday October 01, 2004 @07:48PM (#10410062)
    I understand that the question is really asking "how do you get maps that can be enlarged", but...

    Questions like: Find the largest city on the Mississippi River and what is the Capitol of the South American country to the west of Surinam are hard for the child as his view of the map is very constrained."

    Put those questions into google, and you can pretty quickly find an answer using only text. Using google to answer questions about maps is probably not the skill they were trying to teach, but on the other hand, it is a skill of some kind.

  • by Hugonz ( 20064 ) <hugonz@@@gmail...com> on Friday October 01, 2004 @07:48PM (#10410066) Homepage
    For some years now, there has been at least one Linux distribution. Zipspeak [linux-speakup.org]is a variant of zipslack (Slackware for UMSDOS)that supports several voice synth cards.

    The Speakup Project produces a screen reader [linux-speakup.org] that is used in the above distro.

    There is also a Knoppix based distro [oralux.org] called Oralux, that will also support braille terminals (these are usually one line at a time vt100 emulators) connected to a serial port.

    I know this does not solve the map problem, but this, along with Links, for example, will give any vision impaired person far more tools that are available in Windows, for instance.

  • by jordanda ( 160179 ) on Friday October 01, 2004 @07:53PM (#10410093) Homepage
    You could try a Virtual Retinal Display. They've shown promise for people with macular degeneration and retinal pigmentosa. I think Microvision is the only company selling them though.

    Slashdot did an article on them a while back.
    http://slashdot.org/articles/99/04/15/2058223_F.sh tml [slashdot.org]
  • tactile graphics (Score:4, Informative)

    by n-boy ( 818371 ) on Friday October 01, 2004 @07:55PM (#10410108)
    The first thing I thought of when reading your question was "tactile graphics". In my experience, it's the best way to convey spatial distances when one can't see the distances. A tactile graphic is, for example, a map with details raised, effectively making it so that the individual can "feel" the distance and relation of different features. The drawback is that these graphics are expensive *and* tend to be very large (it's difficult to feel the separation of two tiny lines when they're close together). A quick google will find you plenty of information on companies that make these products. (I happen to work for a company that makes tactile gfx, in addition to other low vision/blind products, but no plug for them today)
  • BBC (Score:4, Informative)

    by Kurt Russell ( 627436 ) on Friday October 01, 2004 @07:59PM (#10410130)
    I read this [bbc.co.uk] fascinating article some time ago. With the way the way things are headed the kid might have 20-20 vision soon ;-) I'm sure there are all sorts of neural type implant projects for vision impaired people, so the future looks bright.
    • "so the future looks bright"

      What a horrible pun to use in light of the conversation...

      Sorry, mod me "insensitive" - I just could help pointing that out.
  • Windows XP has an Accessibility menu with Magnifier and Narrator. Most map software use vector graphics, so zooming in doesn't degrade the image. Speech to text software could be nice if the keyboard is too cumbersome to use.

    I would recommend installing two or more monitors which can be configured (since Win98) as one big desktop. Or maybe plugging the PC to a large TV with svideo or better. Most video cards also have custom brightness/contrast settings. XP's "built-in" ultra-plain generic drivers doesn
  • A projector would be best, but a TV adapter may help too.

    Hook the computer up so you use the TV as a screen. It's not as high quality as a good monitor of course, but would be easier for the kid to see.

    A projector would be more expensive... but would provide even greater benefit.
  • Perhaps something that this child could do is use a puzzle map of the world. I don't know where you'd find something like that. I used to have a puzzle map of the U.S. when I was younger.

    This probably couldn't go very far, but its a start and might make the father think of other things to try.
  • by TiggertheMad ( 556308 ) on Friday October 01, 2004 @08:22PM (#10410241) Homepage Journal
    All the suggestions are decent ideas, but I wonder if the solution might be to change the problem.

    If a person has such problems reading maps, that simple image enlargement techniques don't help then why try teaching geography visually? It is unlikely that that skill (Being able to find the Mississippi on a map) whill ever be a useful one to a person who is severly visually impaired. You can visually describe geography to someone and achieve the same end.

    Tell the teacher to stop wasting time teaching skills that aren't ever going to be of use. Just because a standardized skill test has a question like that doesn't mean that it will be applicable to every child that takes the test...
  • Tried OS X? (Score:3, Informative)

    by v1 ( 525388 ) on Friday October 01, 2004 @08:25PM (#10410262) Homepage Journal
    Macs have always had good support for users with visual and physical disabilities. In OS X, go to System Preferences - Universal Access. The visual enhancements availabe there can switch the display to black-and-white, greyscale, enhance contrast, and can magnify the display greatly for people with low vision. Zoom can be set from 2x to 20x. On my powerbook, 20x zoom makes the mouse pointer almost 3" long, which should be plenty enough for anyone that's not completely blind.

    These enhancements are part of the base OS, there is no additional software to buy.
  • GMT Software (Score:3, Informative)

    by chris_sawtell ( 10326 ) on Friday October 01, 2004 @08:26PM (#10410263) Journal

    Generic Mapping Tools [hawaii.edu]

    "These are an open source collection of ~60 tools for manipulating geographic and Cartesian data sets (including filtering, trend fitting, gridding, projecting, etc.) and producing Encapsulated PostScript File (EPS) illustrations ranging from simple x-y plots through contour maps to artificially illuminated surfaces and 3-D perspective views. GMT supports ~30 map projections and transformations and comes with support data such as coastlines, rivers, and political boundaries."

    The data set is available on CD from The Geoware Online Store [geoware-online.com] or alternatively from various ftp archives. I have not got the various the url's to hand but the data is freely available from US institutions. ( several hundred megabyte download )

    Create suitable images according to the need of the moment using the GMT software and project them onto a horizontal board. Us the projected image as a guide to making plaster reliefs. Great educational fun for folks of all ages who want to learn that there is a real World out there which is more than just target co-ordinates.
  • Tactile Maps (Score:3, Informative)

    by Egonis ( 155154 ) on Friday October 01, 2004 @08:28PM (#10410272)
    I worked at the CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind) for some time...

    A very valuable tool for youth (typically provided by the educational institution) is to create tactile maps, in which thin strips of foam are used to represent maps which can produce:

    - Directions in a Neighbourhood
    - Basic City Plans
    - Geographical Maps

    Basically, you take a piece of hard construction paper, and glue strips and curves of thin foam to it, and name each section with braille.

    For further information, reply and I am willing to assist.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 01, 2004 @08:29PM (#10410276)
    Blind + Linux = BLINUX [leb.net]. This is the best solution in the long run and it doesn't cost anything, unlike solutions from Microsoft and other proprietary software. I wish you the best luck. The command-line interface is ideal for blind users.

    Emacspeak is a speech interface that allows blind and visually impaired users to interact independently and efficiently with the computer. Available free of cost on the Internet, Emacspeak has dramatically changed how the author and hundreds of blind and visually impaired users around the world interact with the personal computer and the Internet.

    In my humble opinion Emacspeak is the most advanced voice enabled user interface currently available. If I wouldn't have seen a trained Emacspeak user reading his email faster that I ever could I never would have believed it. Did you ever see a person which is blind playing Tetris amazingly fast? It sounds incredible. Emacspeak makes it possible.

    I won't tell you that you don't need some training until you are at home with Emacspeak. But if you are willing to invest some efforst, chances are good that you will be able to handle your computer faster than many sighted users.

    When reading, writing, designing, or programming, the totally blind individual is inevitably restricted to a one dimensional world, be it speech or braille. This linear stream may take the form of a single-line display on a braille output device, or the words spoken by a speech synthesizer. There are brief moments when the blind user can enjoy the benefits of a 2-dimensional presentation. If he has a braille printer he might print out a chart or spread sheet and explore it with both hands. Indeed, when I studied mathematics at U.C. Berkeley I often had to write the equation, or set of related equations down in braille, and review it as a whole, before I understood it. However, one rarely has the time to construct such a two-dimensional tactile representation, similar to the screen or the printed page. As a general rule we must admit that the blind user is stuck in one dimension.

    Unfortunately, almost all modern applications present information in a two-dimensional format, and most employ graphical icons that have no meaning for the blind. Since it is impractical to rewrite all these applications, the blind community has been forced to perform a rather awkward retrofit, using various adapters. We should recognize that this is not the ideal solution. Pasting a screen reader on top of Netscape makes it accessible, but the result is hardly efficient.

    Over the past decade a small minority of blind users have discovered Linux, a free, text-based operating system for the home computer. Linux applications rarely employ graphics, and most of them are already linear, just like the mode (speech or braille) that is our Karma. All other things being equal, Linux is the best operating system for a blind user.

    Of course things aren't always equal. If your job requires the use of a proprietary order entry system that only runs on Windows, then you'll be using Windows, with an adapter that tries to make the application somewhat accessible. But this scenario is actually quite rare. An employer may insist on a Microsoft Word document, but that doesn't force you to use Windows. You can write html code on Linux and mail it to your boss, who can then import it into Word. Conversely, your co-workers can easily export their Word documents into html for your benefit. There are very few reasons why you must use Windows. Let's assume you are considering Linux, where the applications are less graphical. That's a fair assumption, since you're already visiting this web site.

    If you watch a sighted Linux user for an hour, you will notice that he spends most of his time in screen applications. He doesn't need the labyrinth of "helpful" menus and drop down boxes that Windows is famous for, and he has no patience for the "are you sure you want to do that" and "click ok if you really want to quit" dialog boxes, and he

    • Blind + Linux = BLINUX. This is the best solution in the long run and it doesn't cost anything, unlike solutions from Microsoft and other proprietary software. I wish you the best luck. The command-line interface is ideal for blind users.

      Interestingly (but a tad OT) is that nethack can be configured for blind users as well.

      All work and no play makes Johnny a dully boy.

      Other games for the blind would probably include the many, many MUDs out there.

      • Blind + Linux = BLINUX. This is the best solution in the long run and it doesn't cost anything, unlike solutions from Microsoft and other proprietary software. I wish you the best luck. The command-line interface is ideal for blind users.

        Interestingly (but a tad OT) is that nethack can be configured for blind users as well. All work and no play makes Johnny a dully boy. Other games for the blind would probably include the many, many MUDs out there.

        Not only MUDs but also future MMORPG games from

    • I'll second this. I am teaching programming to my 11-yr-old totally blind son using Python and Emacspeak on Linux. "Voice-lock" mode is particularly cool: it's like font-lock, but uses different voices rather than different fonts to distinguish keywords/strings/comments etc.
      • I'll second this. I am teaching programming to my 11-yr-old totally blind son using Python and Emacspeak on Linux.

        In another post [slashdot.org] I have mentioned The WorldForge Project [worldforge.org]: "Our vision is to foster an independent community in which many free games can develop and evolve with unique roleplaying-oriented worlds and rules, running on a wide selection of server and client implementations with a standard networking protocol tying everything together. The WorldForge project hasn't produced any complete, pla

  • by hacksoncode ( 239847 ) on Friday October 01, 2004 @08:29PM (#10410278)
    How about a quality atlas and a big old magnifying glass?

    Technology is great stuff, and all, but...

  • by GabrielF ( 636907 ) <GJFishman@nOSpaM.comcast.net> on Friday October 01, 2004 @08:33PM (#10410299)
    I don't know where you are located in the country (or the world), but many states have agencies designed to help solve these problems. I am visually impaired and I had a case worker from Connecticut Board of Education Services for the Blind throughout school who helped me with these issues. They have assistive technology consultants as well as people who can deal with the often public school administrators. Other states have similar agencies as well. Middle school can be absolutely hellish so it can be very helpful to have someone on your side. Even if this isn't an option make sure he has an IEP (or equivalent) so that the school has written records of his disability and a formal plan for dealing with it. If you've got all of this on file than its much easier to get individual teachers or administrators to help out, and even possibly pay for a special equipment and large print books. I actually was really good at geography as a kid, (national geography bee state finalist way back when) but I suspect that was because I really liked puzzling over maps and trying to figure them out. However, I know that geography bee national finalists have been completely blind in the past. To be honest if the tests he has to take are entirely the questions that you listed than they need to be modified, but geography is more than capitals and directions. A good question might be something like "What do Mindenao, Correigidor, and Luzon have in common" you don't need to know anything about the shape of the Philippines to answer that one, all you need to have done is maybe read a little about WWII or current events etc. I doubt that I could draw a map of the world better than a 5 year old but I can assure you I know much more geography than the average american. The truth of the matter is that this kid might not be able to give you directions from a little roadmap on the highway without a lot of help, but that doesn't mean he isn't capable of understanding the nature of the world around him. I suspect that the best thing for him to do is to read as much as possible and to try to absorb information and visualize it. That worked for me anyway.
  • Helpful resources (Score:4, Informative)

    by Kartik3 ( 590836 ) on Friday October 01, 2004 @08:35PM (#10410314)
    Helping people is, I think, one of the best uses of the slashdot community. That being said...
    Here are some (hopefully) helpful resources:

    American Printing House for the Blind [nyud.net]:
    They're a great resource of learning materials for the blind. (You should try and see if the school can (or maybe should) pay for these materials)

    APH geography learning materials [nyud.net]

    Royal National Institute for the Blind (UK) [nyud.net]
    The RNIB looks like a good resource and charity in the UK for the blind as well.

    This article in the 4th issue of their Curriculum Close-Up magazine dealing with learning geography for the blind might help as well.
    Article [nyud.net]

    I hope this helps and I wish you and them the best of luck!
    • Another helpful resource is VIBUG, Visually Impaired and Blind User Group , Boston [vibug.org]

      VIBUG started as a Boston Computer Society special interest group. The VIBUG web site has a page listing resources for blind computer users VIBUG's mission statement is:

      "Exchange information and advice among visually impaired computer users.

      Expand computer literacy within the visually impaired community--especially the use of computers to overcome limitations of visual impairment.

      To further these objectives, VIBUG is e

  • by alexburke ( 119254 ) * <(ac.ekrubxela) (ta) (todhsals+xela)> on Friday October 01, 2004 @08:44PM (#10410354)
    The CIA World Factbook has some EXCELLENT reference maps [cia.gov], available in 100% vector PDF (meaning they can be infinitely scaled without any pixellation).
  • by mlmitton ( 610008 ) on Friday October 01, 2004 @09:08PM (#10410447)
    I can't help with your specific question. However, there was a REALLY good cover story a few weeks ago in the New York Times Magazine on a child with cerebral palsy being integrated in the classroom. It describes an effort to truly integrate children with disabilities as though they were any other student. It may very well provide some answers or ideas that your friend might have, outside of your specific request. As it happens, just today I scanned this article in (6 MB), (I have two nephews with cerebral palsy) and would be happy to email it on to you or your friend. Email me at AT yahoo dot com and I'll send it on. (It's a secondary email for me, so the reply might be slow, but I will reply.)
  • ReadPlease (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lahjik ( 181864 ) on Friday October 01, 2004 @09:13PM (#10410464)
    I am a technology coordinator for a special education service agency and so have some experience with assistive technology. Step one is find a local assistive technology (AT) library in your region so you can borrow and try different devices and/or software mentioned here. Most states have these libraries located in various regions. Next, I suggest trying some free software. If you search, I am sure you can find a freeware screen magnifier (I know I have used one with students before). Another suggestion is to modify the normal.dot template in Word or create a Word Template as a shortcut on the desktop (with large icons of course) to a special use template. Use contrasting background/text colors and a large size font. The best color combination depends on the user, but a classic is blue/black background and yellow text. If you are looking at screen readers or other text to speech, I suggest first downloading ReadPlease. This is a freeware reader with a pay version and a pay IE addin available. The website is http://www.readplease.com For the free version, you can copy and paste in text and have it read aloud. Not great, but a good place to start. For a much more expensive investment, though probably worth it if reading is a probblem, is Kurzweil 3000. This program is simply amazing. You use it with a scanner: it can scan in any printed text and then parse out the text to read it aloud. You can zoom in to increase size of images and text. A trial is available on the website at http://www.kurzweil.com Again, your best bet is to work within your school system to access an AT library or find other solutions. If the child is receiving services as an exceptional child (special needs) then Medicare may cover expense of some devices.
  • by liquidzero4 ( 566264 ) on Friday October 01, 2004 @09:24PM (#10410511)
    My suggestion would be to aquire a small LCD or DLP projector. You could use this to project an image of almost any size. It's very easy to take a map and project it onto a wall as a 9ft by 9ft image. These projectors have shrunk considerably over the years some are smaller than a shoe box.

    Local Library: These projectors have dropped considerably and you could probably pick one up used for a few hundred dollars.

    Most local libraries have these projectors for either guest speakers or to show movies. It is very possible that someone might actually let you borrow one for a few weeks.

    Hope this helps.
    • I would mod parent up, but I don't currently have mod points. However, it is the same suggestion I would suggest.

      For a family with a near-blind kid, a $1000-2000 projector should be in the budget. (Cheaper than most medical procedures.) It might allow the poor kid to even do other things like explore the Internet. Some projectors are extremely bright and have a very high contrast ratio - very useful for trying to make things easier to see.

  • Two suggestions:

    At work we use a digital projection system to project paper documents (in fact anything which is not a transparecy/viewgraph) onto our projection screen in the conference room. With good optics you can zoom in quite a bit (we once blew up a nickel to 6 feet across on the screen) - this would work well for good paper maps or any other document you would want to enlarge and/or zoom in. The size of the wall you project onto is your limit - and your wallet, since you also need a good projecto

  • Before you mod me down, here is what I was thinking:

    Get an older 640x480 or better projector with decent lumens and hook it up to your computer for a display. Before you say "His shadow will not allow him to get close to the screen" try this: Instead of the child looking at his maps from in front of the screen, he looks at them from the back-- in other words the projector is on one side of the screen, the child is on another. Use a semi-opaque screen as opposed to a standard screen so that he can see it
  • Is a wonderful option for learning geography. Much better than nearly anything else!
  • OK, this is kinda OT and probably not PC, but anyway...

    Back in my tech support days, I was working at a client's house, showing her some darn thing about Windows. While poring though the Control Panel, she noticed the wheelchair icon.

    Client (pointing to the wheelchair): What's that for?

    Me: Oh, that's the Accessibility Options. That's used by computer users who have a disability. For instance, that's where you would load the Braille drivers if you were blind.

    Client (excitedly, and while stroking t

  • I know people here tend to dislike MS products, but MapPoint is really great. It supports a pretty large font size, and you can easily change map types (terrain, road, etc.).

    It's a fairly involved application (I use it for geographic sales data analysis, for example), but with the help of an adult, maybe you might be able to make it work.

    It's fairly adjustable, so hopefully you can find a high-contrast set of colors that work for your friend.

    If you know someone with an MSDN subscription, have them downl
  • have the child evaluated at the Family Hope Center [familyhopecenter.org]
  • That kid does have a problem if you and/or his parents refer to his vision condition as a "problem." The only problem is a world that is slow to awaken to the understanding that the man-made world can be designed for universal access. Technology only makes it all the more easier. The possibilities open up as soon as you discard the idea that the kid is broken and begin to realize it is the world that is in fact backward. I'm sure you'll get a lot of good suggestions for stopgap [reference.com] measures. That's what the sol
  • BookShare.org (Score:2, Informative)

    by IanDanforth ( 753892 )
    Check it out. Free books for the blind (or otherwise handicapped). Its copyright at its best.


    Bookshare.org [bookshare.org]

  • by WerewolfOfVulcan ( 320426 ) on Saturday October 02, 2004 @02:06AM (#10411537)
    The technology exists to convert printed images to a tactile format. You print the image onto special paper and then run it through a heat machine similar to a laminator. The heat causes the paper to puff up everywhere black toner is present (Google for 'tactile image enhancer' for the geeky details of why it works).

    At any rate, you end up with a map that the child can feel.

    Repro-Tronics [repro-tronics.com] is one company that can provide you with the supplies you need. We've used this technology with low-vision clients and it works well. Contact any of the Vision Services staff at The STAR Center [tn.org] for more information about this technology. They may also have other suggestions for you.

  • To the person asking the original question: I would try going to people who deal with maps:

    - MapQuest + all other companies that provide mapping services online
    - National Geographic Society
    - Maybe GPS companies (e.g. Garmin) can help

    Maybe you can even contact publishers of atlases, they may have some hi-res maps that would help this child.
  • Don't make efforts solely to improve the child's environment. You must also help improve his sight, which is possible in spite of what top-notch doctors already told him.

    I also had/have problems with sight but I managed to make significant improvements(still working). The contacts I am offering you below, are NOT advertising, but my effort to make this child happy. The contacts are here:

    Norbekov Institute
    113 McHenry Rd. #242
    Buffalo Grove, IL 60089,

    info@norbekovusa . com

  • by pjt33 ( 739471 )
    You want vector maps? ARC/INFO from ESRI is a vector mapping GIS, and they have data for the whole world. You can also get data on a country-by-country basis from Penn. State University [psu.edu].
  • The Quantum Technologies Nomad Mentor [quantech.com.au]. This should be able to help you...

    Basically, Quantum Technology products are touch sensitive tablets that connect to a computer and allow a person with vision problems to scan a raised map or a document with braille information, press an area and obtain information.

    It is (was) very innovative, in the sense that it provided up to three levels of information, a rather good speech synthesis, and the documents could be done quickly and cheaply, using the utilities provid
  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) * on Saturday October 02, 2004 @07:26AM (#10412396)
    Try to print diagrams with a Solid Ink color printer Such as the Xerox Phasers You can probably get a refurbished one at a good price the 840, 850, and 860 models come with free black ink for the life of the printer (So you don't need to go on Ebay and Buy Free Black ink for $10 and think you got a good deal (Man Stupid people)). The reason is that Solid Ink printers natually print with little bumps on the printer. So say you do the map using 4 Different [gatech.edu] patterns Horizontal Stripes, Vertical Strips, Just white Paper and solid fill. That way the child can actually feel the print on the paper and get an idea where things are.
    This is a Mid Level Tech solution that is not going crazy plus the family gets a good quality printer.
    • (Mod parent up!)

      I once used an ancient Apple Laserwriter 12/600. It produced a feelable amount of toner on the print-outs (I guess 0.25 to 0.5 mm), much more than any other laser printer I've seen. I don't know if it was adjusted improperly or if it was using the wrong toner, or if it just behaves this way. I'm not blind, and I'm not trained to read braille, but I'm sure that a map printed on that old printer would have been feelable.

      I think that a solid ink printer could do the same job, perhaps even bet

  • I know, they're old and a wee bit commercial, but they've always been slanted towards education... If they haven't considered your particular problem yet, they should... I've already dropped 'em a line - and included a tack on the hearing impaired (my child) as well, and found their response prompt and useful.
  • Each student learns differently. This particular student has a visual implement. Other students have other specific learning disabilities.

    Perhaps the way to resolve this problem is to talk with the teacher about an alternative form of assignment. The purpose of map finding activities isn't to study maps and memorize locations, it is to expand your view on the world by realizing the physical attributes that make different places unique.

    A good teacher will be able to accommodate for many different learni
  • Get in touch with Gary Bishop [unc.edu]. He's a professor at UNC who has been working on maps and user interfaces for the blind. I believe he's got working software that you can download and is always looking for people to work with and help.


The primary function of the design engineer is to make things difficult for the fabricator and impossible for the serviceman.