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University’s Fingertip Guide Helps Museum Visitors


Visually-impaired visitors to the National Railway Museum in York will be able to find their way around the buildings more easily and enjoyably from today, thanks to specially designed ’tactile guides’ produced by the University of York.

Visitors use their fingertips to trace their way around the building and its famous engines following the guide, a two-dimensional picture of lines, shapes and textures.

The guide has been tested by visually impaired people, who were so impressed by it that five copies have been produced for the Museum. The guide can be used alongside a free audio tour of the NRM.

Many visually impaired people trying to find their way around public buildings or museums say they would prefer a tactile map to a person guiding them. Pictures and diagrams, which give information when touched, can also be used to explain particular exhibits.

The new service from the University of York Tactile Images group will also help firms and public bodies comply with legislation on disabled access, giving them the opportunity to develop maps, audio guides and diagrams about their services.

Researchers at York claim there are very few audio or tactile guides available anywhere. The project team at the University believe they could fill a big gap in the market.

Set-up funding for the project has come from the Higher Education Funding Council, via a special fund to help universities use their research in community settings. The York team leader is Dr Alistair Edwards, whose research focuses on making computers easier for blind people to use. He said: "Our first step was to look at producing a portable tactile guide to include braille, large print and tactile pages.

"We are also looking at ways in which people with visual impairments can safely orientate their way around the whole museum and perceive the shape and scale of the exhibits."

The Tactile Images group is interested in hearing from other museums or buildings open to the public access who would be interested in having a free, pilot tactile guide.

Dr Alistair Edwards | alfa
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