Let your fingers do the walking

A new 3-D representation of campus now installed in the Golda Meir Library let's visitors explore campus with their fingertips. (Photo by Kathy Quirk)

Designing a three-dimensional map of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee main East Side campus for students, visitors and faculty/staff who have visual impairments was an unusual challenge, says Dennis Manley.

“You just have to think with your fingers,” says Manley, who ran the model shop in the School of Architecture & Urban Planning until his recent retirement. He and four students/shop techs – Steve Stoffel, Adam Bragee, Corey Bogenschuetz and Ben Ross – built the model.

The 3-D representation of campus is now installed in the Golda Meir Library for the use of anyone who wants to explore campus with their fingertips. The Student Accessibility Center (SAC) will also be able use it in orientation and mobility training sessions for students with vision impairments, according to Jean Salzer, senior counselor for the Blind and Visually Impaired program at the center.

The buildings are raised, but not to vertical scale. That’s because taller buildings would make it harder for users to feel their way around campus, and wouldn’t add information. Details like green space and the Maryland Avenue Bridge are in place, and names of streets and buildings are carved in. SAC is creating Braille labels.

Jacques du Plessis, associate professor of information technology, came up with the idea as part of his research on information access for those with vision difficulty. Although a three-dimensional map of campus once existed, no one was sure what had happened to it. And, according to Manley, because of its size and taller vertical buildings, that map would have been difficult for users to navigate.

Du Plessis approached Bob Greenstreet, SARUP dean, about creating the map, and Greenstreet facilitated the project launch. The modeling crew sprang into action, and DuPlessis’ SOIS colleague, Rakesh Babu, an assistant professor who is blind, and SAC provided feedback. Ewa Barczyck, director of UWM Libraries, offered the map a home.

Salzer estimates that there are 30 to 40 students with some degree of visual impairment who work with SAC every semester, and unknown numbers of faculty, staff and visitors. “The way it’s set up, it can actually be a cool model of the campus for anybody to use,” she adds.

“What everybody forgets is that the campus is a community, and what we did is helping a part of our community,” says Manley.