Diagrams, graphs and pictures can support the learning of students, particularly those with specific learning difficulties. Mind maps are one example.
However, consider how the information you present as diagrams, graphs, maps or pictures can be made accessible to a blind or visually impaired student. Some students may be able to access them if they are re-drawn using thicker, blacker lines.
There are two main alternative methods of producing accessible materials, as described below.
Tactile versions can provide access to diagrams, maps and graphs for blind students. They have raised lines, shapes and textures that the blind person can feel, accompanied by labels in Braille.
Tactile diagrams are typically hand drawn or printed onto heat sensitive (or ‘swell’) paper. On heating, the paper covered by black ink rises above the remaining surface. Your institution may have equipment to produce simple tactile diagrams in-house. However complex images may need to be redesigned to make the information accessible, and this can be done to a professional standard at the National Centre for Tactile Diagrams. Advance planning is required for the production of new tactile diagrams but the NCTD also has an archive of existing materials.
Computer software can be used to produce tactile diagrams or reproduce other visual images that can then be printed onto Braille paper. This is described in the RNIB Factsheet, ‘Producing Braille and Tactile Images’, available from their website.
A quick solution for simple graphs or diagrams is the use of German Paper, which, when drawn on with a pen, produces a raised line. Or heat pens can also be used with swell paper to produce hand drawn tactile diagrams. These methods may be used to provide relatively cheap and on the spot solutions.
The more complex visual teaching materials, such as reproductions of paintings or photographs, cannot be provided in tactile form and need to be described either by you or a sighted assistant. A student not proficient at extracting information using the sense of touch may also require described versions of simple visual images.
The description can be made available to students in the accessible format of their choice (e.g. audio tape or Braille). The Open University has produced a set of useful guidelines for academic staff on how to provide descriptions of visual course materials on their Knowledge Network website.
There are particular issues for blind students studying mathematics and statistics and who need to use Braille and accessible alternatives to access complex graphs and diagrams.