A 3-D printer and hours of work by one A&M freshman will go toward helping the visually impaired navigate A&M’s campus.
Tyler Wooten designed and 3-D printed a portable braille map of A&M’s campus to be used by students and faculty who are blind or visually impaired. The map is a direct copy of main and west campus with each building raised by a quarter of an inch.
“There’s braille on top of the main buildings — like MSC, Rudder, Kyle Field and Sbisa,” Wooten said. “It helps someone who is blind or visually impaired find out where a building is … You can use it to help figure out where you are and orient where you are on campus.”
Wooten said he came up with the idea after he thought about how difficult it is for visually impaired students to navigate through campus and decided to take advantage of his 3-D printing class. Wooten used the 3-D printer in the Engineering Innovation Center and his own money to purchase the materials and print the individual drafts of the map. For the original draft of main campus, Wooten had to design the map from scratch.
“For main campus, I had a picture of the map up on one screen, and I had SolidWorks open on my other screen and I was just eyeballing it, drawing all of the buildings,” Wooten said. “Enough people had heard about it that they taught me how to do it better. Now I can take a screenshot of the map, put it in SolidWorks and just trace the buildings.”
The map is less than an inch thick, and is made of gray Polylactic Acid, or PLA, a lightweight durable material. The maps are heat resistant and waterproof, said Wooten, who stress-tested the maps. Each section of the map is 5-by-9 inches and can connect with another section by sliding into place in order to make a full map of campus. Each map takes five hours to print, not including the hours put into the design.
After his initial stage or production, Wooten reached out to Kaitlyn Kellermeyer, economics senior and activist for people with visual impairment, to get her opinion on the project as well as to help test it.
Due to low production costs, Wooten said Kellermeyer, who has a visual impairment, suggested printing a copy of the map for each member of the visually impaired community. Kellermeyer said she has been testing the map out on campus, as well as showing it to her friends who are blind or also visually impaired.
“Generally for blind people, if you want to find a new location, you have to have someone teach you. You have to have someone walk you there,” Kellermeyer said. “But with something like this, you can kind of go exploring on your own and keep track of where you are ... I’ve personally never used a map that I’ve found more useful.”
The map is meant to work in conjunction with various wind chimes located across campus. These wind chimes were placed around campus to guide the visually impaired as part of an initiative spearheaded by Kellermeyer. The wind chimes will be featured on the map and given more elevation than other structures.
“The wind chimes are specific auditory cues that blind or visually impaired students would use,” Kellermeyer said. “Because you can tell where they are on the map — as you pass them, you can use that as a checkpoint audibly and on the map to verify that you are where you think you are.”
The map is still undergoing improvements, said Wooten. Since it is the first version of the map, buildings have been shortened, braille has been corrected and roads have been widened.
Tracey Forman, assistant director of the Disability Services Office, said updating the map will need to be an ongoing process.
“We’ve done one on paper before, so there’s tactile maps already out there,” Forman said. “Their braille labeling leaves something to be desired. They need to work on that … I think right now they need to work on their scale. They have to figure out how to distinguish buildings and roads more.”
In the future, Wooten said he wants to make similar maps for other locations.
“It wouldn’t be too hard for me to be able to do it for other schools; I could just go online to Google images, screenshot their campus and trace all of the buildings, and send them copies,” Wooten said. “As long as it helps someone. I’m surprised no one thought of it.”