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Made by Students, for Students: Tactile maps lead blind visitors through this Rutgers library

Tactile maps with braille text and raised shapes symbolizing parts of the Alexander Library were developed by Rutgers students in the School of Engineering and 3D Printing Club to help blind and visually-impaired visitors. – Photo by Wikimedia

Students in the School of Engineering and the 3D Printing Club recently created tactile maps to help blind and visually-impaired visitors and students navigate their way at the Alexander Library in Rutgers University—New Brunswick. 

The project was led by Howon Lee, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, according to Rutgers Today. Students used 3D printing to create maps of the library’s first floor — the maps are hard plastic 8-inch squares with braille text and raised shapes that symbolize parts of the library. Squares stand for elevators, rectangles represent book shelves and circles and triangles are restrooms. They are available as handouts at the front desk of the library. 

Lee previously led a team to 3D print tactile maps of the Joseph Kohn Training Center, which teaches blind or visually-impaired individuals skills needed to attend college, seek employment or become independent homemakers. He said he hopes to explore the possibilities of 3D printing to create materials that solve problems. 

“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.”

During the summer, the team worked with Manager of Central Services in the Office of Disability Services Jason Khurdan, to test out the maps with blind students to see if there were any parts that needed improvement, according to Rutgers Today. The library staff also helped out with the project by providing the engineering team with its own maps and blueprints, said Janet Croft, Rutgers librarian for Disability Services. 

Other organizations across the world have reached out to Lee to seek guidance in creating tactile maps for malls, buildings and other campuses, according to Rutgers Today. He said that he and the 3D Printing Club will work in the future on creating more maps in braille for facilities throughout Rutgers—New Brunswick.

“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. 

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