Oct 5, 2018 | By Thomas

3D printing is already used in several ways to improve the lives of the blind and visually impaired. 3D printed tactile maps, 3D printed, blind-friendly smart glasses, and 3D printed braille readers have each contributed to the cause, but there are endless new ways in which additive manufacturing can be used to make life a little easier for those who see a little less well.

Maps marking emergency exit routes are required by law to be posted in public buildings, but these are essentially useless to the visually impaired. Thanks to Howard Kaplan, a visualization specialist at the University of South Florida in Tampa, a unique 3D printed tactile version of these maps for some classrooms on campus may soon be available for the people who are visually impaired.

“I can’t imagine navigation without my sight,” said Kaplan, a doctoral candidate in the USF Advanced Visualization Center. “You kind of take it for granted. So, when you see students and family and friends that are able to be successful and navigate and contribute to society, this is the very least we can do for them is to provide them the same tools we have.”

Kaplan developed an encoding system that creates tactile symbols, ensuring they have a proper height, texture and depth for proper finger navigation. They’re then 3D printed using plastic filament. So far, six USF classroom (CRP 103, CIS 1048, CMC118, ENG 118, BSN 1300, EDU 316) have been encoded, which include details such as location of emergency exits, whether doors are a push or pull and if there are stairs.

“It’s important to note the room isn’t a flat floor, that there is a gradual increase in height as they go up, so when a non-sighted student enters the room, they don’t trip and they can navigate the room more accurately, safely and independently,” said Kaplan.

Fifty students with visual impairment are registered with USF Students with Disabilities Services. The department connected Kaplan with five students who started testing personalized tactile maps this summer. This helped them get familiarized with certain classrooms prior to the fall semester.

The 3D printed USF tactile maps are expected to be ready for public use in spring 2019. They’ll be located just outside classrooms, next to room numbers, in which are currently marked in braille.

 “This project is very important to USF and Students with Disabilities Services because it promotes equity and inclusion for visually impaired students,” said Dani Thiel, coordinator for Students with Disabilities Services. “Students with visual impairments should have the same understanding of their classroom spaces and paths for emergency exits as everyone else.”

Other agencies Kaplan reached out to for feedback was Tampa Lighthouse for the Blind and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, where his ideas were met with enthusiasm. Kaplan hopes to encode other public spaces such as hospitals and airports, eventually making them accessible worldwide.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

Source: USF

 

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