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Geospatial information for the blind

F Mustofa, S Eka Wati, Turmudi, Setiyani, S Murdoko
National Coordinanting Agency for Surveys and Mapping (BAKOSURTANAL), Indonesia
Email: [email protected]

Setia AP
Specialized School in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

The need of any information, including geospatial information, is one of the human rights that must be fulfilled by governments and related parties. Spatial information, commonly presented on digital maps or atlas, paper sheets or books, is proposed for people with normal vision. For blind people, a special tool is required. The tool is represented by tactile map which helps them to recognise the map, the symbol upon it and the explanation depicted, through Braille word.

Tactile map based on road infrastructure is an interesting theme for blind people since it will give vital knowledge on how to reach a certain area. Blind people usually identify the environment by listening to some conversations or information given by the other people. They have not yet understood how to get to a particular area and its accessibility. Therefore, this research is intended to understand the ability of blind people in recognising road infrastructure in several big islands and among cities in Indonesia.

The result of the research shows that blind people are able to identify the symbols of road infrastructure. Further, not only are they able to recognise, but also to understand spatial dimension among cities in Indonesia.

The need of information, including spatial information or geospatial information, is a human right. Geospatial information plays a key role in enhancing human knowledge in relation to region and its supporting infrastructure. This knowledge itself is important to strengthen orientation ability which influences mobility level. The higher the human ability in recognising the transportation facilities, the higher their mobile ability. This mobile ability contributes to human activity in fulfilling their need and resolving their problems.

Data and geospatial information are commonly available in the form of maps, both digital and paper. Generally, these maps are intended to people with normal sight. Cartographical contents depicted on the map can be clearly seen by them. In contrast, blind people need a certain tool to read and understand the information displayed on map.

The reading ability of blind people is determined by palm sensitivity in touching the Braille words. The result is then stimulated to the brain. The Braille words assist them to obtain a lot of information. Unfortunately, they are not able to gather geospatial information from the common map. Therefore, a special media to disseminate geospatial information must be developed. Tactile map is the solution.

Tactile maps are a group of thematic maps which are developed by embossing the map and mixed with Braille words. A few years ago, the form of tactile map was quite simple and it only presented information of daily routine, as an example the way from home to office. Emboss is an advanced technology in developing tactile map. Through this technique, the perception of blind people to understand space relatively increases. Since 1990, ICA (international Cartographic Association) has been committed to help blind people through tactile map. They have dedicated TacNEWS as a special magazine for blind people.

Blind people in Indonesia need to know Indonesia and its characteristics as their environment. In case of curicula in special schools, introduction of Indonesia’s characteristics becomes important to improve their spatial knowledge. To address such a situation, the Indonesia government, represented by BAKOSURTANAL, held readable tests of tactile maps with theme of region in 2010 and road infrastructure in 2011. The readable test of road infrastructure is intended to indentify mobile ability of blind people in recognising the relationship among regions.

Objective and subjects
The objectives of the research were:

  • To introduce road infrastructure displayed on tactile map to blind people
  • To examine the ability to read tactile map with theme of land transportation

The subjects were:

  • Blind people consisting of teachers and students at junior high school and senior high school in Bandung, Makassar, and Surakarta. There were a total of 90 people.
  • The final subjects were intended to be the other special schools in another province of Indonesia.

Study area
The study area used in readable test was Indonesia and its boundaries with neighbour countries. Besides, some of selected road infrastructures were also presented, i.e. highways, main roads, secondary roads, and railways.

Figure 1. Tectual Map of the Republic of Indonesia
To support the readable test of tactile map with theme of road infrastructure, some tools were needed, as following:
  1. Readable test instrument, i.e. 30 questions related to road infrastructure.
  2. Tactile map with the theme of land transportation. The dimension of the map was A3-paper size. The map covered several regions in Indonesia, i.e. Sumatra Island, Java Island, South Sumatra Island, West Java Island, Special Region of Jakarta, Central Java Province, Yogyakarta Special Province, and East Java Province.

The method consisted of several stages which are:

  1. Recognising several variables used on tactile map: The participants in readable test were asked to learn the map first. This activity was done to give brief description about variables and symbols used on the map. Therefore, they were able to answer the given questions. The variables and symbols on the map are presented in Table 1:

    Table 1. The Examples of Observed Objects on Tactile Map
    Each participant tried to read the tactile map. On the left side, they identified the map whereas on the right side, they read the map explanation presented by using Braille words. All participants were expected to be able to read the symbols (point, line, area) and the explanation as well. After the practice time, they were allowed to discuss the unidentified things.
  2. Answering the questions: There were 30 questions that were to be answered by all participants. The questions were closely related to the information depicted on tactile map.
  3. Evaluating the result: The answers were evaluated. The right answer had to be equal or more than 60 percent. This score is a normal percentage in terms of study completion.

Result and Discussion

The introduction of variables and map symbols
Readable test of tactile map were undertaken in three specialised schools (SLB), i.e. SLB Public A in Bandung, SLB-A YKAB in Surakarta City, and SLB-A YAPTI in Makassar. The participants consisted of teachers and students with total of 90 people. All participants were very interested to be involved in the test. Most of them informed that they just knew the tactile map that contained information about Indonesia and its road and railway network.

A region and road network is represented on a tactile map by using the symbols of point, line and area. As an example, a city is symbolised by point, railway by line, and island by area. The symbols have been created by considering several parameters, i.e. easy to identify, efficient, different, consistent and flexible. Various map symbols are grouped into some variables, namely shape, dimension, orientation and texture.

Symbol introduction held on the first day of the test revealed that most participants did not fully understand the symbols. This situation was caused by less experience in reading the map. To cope with this condition, the instructor helped them by explaining materials related to the symbols.

After introducing the symbols, the test was continued by touching the symbols on the map. Participants made some simple spatial analyses. Those simple analyses were intended to develop thought and perception about regions and connectivity among them. The participants touched all road networks (highways, main roads, secondary roads and railways) and tried to find the correlation among them, particularly starting point and end of the road. The points themselves were associated with the first city in the beginning of the road, the last city in the end of the road, and several cities passing by such roads.

Figure 2 shows railway network in West Java Province. Generally, all participants were able to understand railway network between Jakarta – Cirebon and Jakarta – Bandung – Tasikmalaya. This connectivity represents the relationship among places and spaces. Based on this relationship, blind people can choose their alternative way and transportation mode to get into the intended place. Furthermore, they can also predict the budget and time to reach such place. In this case, they must choose the closest way and the cheapest fare. Therefore, the role of geospatial information becomes the most important thing to inform the accessibility among places.

Figure 2. The Map example of Road Network

Figure 3. Teacher’s Explanation

Figure 4. The Participants

Figure 5. The Participants Touch the map of Road Network in Sumatra
Answering the questions
At least 30 questions were given to the participants in order to find out the ability to read and to understand the tactile map. The questions are generally grouped as shown in Table 1. Based on this method, the participants were expected to be able to recognise line shape, area shape, line dimension, area dimension, point orientation, area orientation and area texture. Below are the examples of questions given:

Type of area orientation
Malaysia is located in…….

  1. Northern part of Sulawesi Island
  2. Northern part of Kalimantan Island
  3. Northeastern part of Timor Island
  4. Eastern part of Papua Island

Type of line shape
Rail way in Sumatra Island connects ……..city with……..city

  1. Bandar Lampung – Bengkulu
  2. Palembang – Padang
  3. Bandar Lampung – Padang
  4. Bandar Lampung – Palembang

Type of line dimension
By train, the distance between Jakarta and Semarang is…………the distance between Semarang and Surabaya

  1. Shorter than
  2. Longer than
  3. A quite shorter than
  4. Equal to

In approximately 90 minutes, the participants could finish answering the question. Explanation and practices done on the first day were quite effective to help them in answering multiple choice questions. The ability to understand the symbols and spatial intelligence level plays a significant role in determining the capability to answer the given questions.

Figure 6. The Participants Filled the Answer Sheet
Evaluation was conducted to analyse the answer of the participants. Commonly, the answer represents the comprehension of participants to decipher the tactile map with the theme of land transportation. If the participants could answer more than 60% of questions, it was assumed that they were able to understand variables and symbols. However, less than 60% stands for the condition in which they could not well understand the variables and symbols.

For shape variable depicted with line symbol corresponds to the symbol of high way, main road, secondary road, and rail way. Those symbols could be well realised by the participants. The difference between main road and secondary road shown by different thickness could also be deciphered by them. Therefore, those symbols are subsequently recommended to be standardised.

The combination of line symbol of railway and another variable has not been well identified yet. As an example, the participants could not recognize the first city and the last city that passed by railway in Sumatra Island. It was only 57% of participants from Junior High School who could realise it. Besides, they could not distinguish the different distances of railway between Jakarta – Yogyakarta via Semarang and via Bandung as well. The complete comparison and evaluation of the participants’ answer is illustrated in Table 2.

Table 2. The Comparison and Evaluation of Participant’s Answer
Shape variable displayed into area symbol, particularly those illustrated in the form of islands and regions, was well understood by the participants. Nevertheless, they have not yet identified the width area. Most of them had difficulties in identifying the width area. It was only 27% of teachers and 47% of senior high school students who could know the different width area of Kalimantan Island and Java Island (see Table 2; number 8).

For dimension variable with line symbol presented in thickness of main road and secondary road was easy to understand; the participant still had problems in relation to the length of the highway (see Table 2, number 5 and 7). On the other hand, orientation variable with point symbol, demonstrated as a direction from one city to another through railway, highway, main road or secondary road was quite difficult to figure out. However, for some questions, they could easily recognize it (see Table 2 number 9 to 15).

Orientation and texture variable with area symbol could be well apprehended by the participants. More than 60% of participants could answer two questions related to the direction and position of Malaysia in Kalimantan Island and also western boundary of South Sumatra Province.


  1. Generally, the main symbol used on tactile map with theme of land transportation (rail way, high way, main road, and secondary road) could be identified by the participants. This is indicated from the percentage of correct answers.
  2. Less comprehension in recognising the symbols was influenced by less experience and knowledge to read the map.
  3. Specifications of main symbol on current tactile map (railway, highway, main road and secondary road) is proposed to be standardised and utilised as a guide to develop tactual map with theme of land transportation.


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