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Mapping, Tourism & Disability or "The Jasmine Streetcorner"


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This is the text of a talk delivered April 26, 2013 at the Federal University of Rio de janeiro at a conference on disability and mapping sponsored by RehabilitArte.

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Mapping, Tourism & Disability or "The Jasmine Streetcorner"

  1. 1. What is a map?A map is a question together with its answer.An accurate map answers the question correctly. A useful map asks a question thatinterests you. I know of many accurate useless maps.Why is that so often my experience?A map intends to tell us where something is in space. It ends up telling us what themapmaker is able to perceive in that space. In fact, it limits itself to telling us what themapmaker considers to be priority data within what they perceive.So, you wouldn’t find a street map that indicates that this street corner smells like jasmineflowers and sounds like a room full of sewing machines.Why? Because, obviously the mapmaker was not fortunate enough to experience thisspace as would someone who is blind. They didn’t realize that – as any blind personwould have perceived – you need to turn left here and go twelve paces to find the door toyour tailor who, by the way, hires seven assistants to sew fashions all day long and hasplanter boxes of jasmine outside the open windows on either side of her door.As a researcher in the area of tourism and disability I start with a fundamentalobservation: Disability is not entirely determined by whether I can walk or see or hear.Disability is a social judgment placed upon those facts about me. A society’s attitudetoward human difference is, speaking metaphorically now, a “map” for how to allocateresources in relation to human beings.
  2. 2. To play with the metaphor, disability is a social construction that places me on themargins of social participation – at the edges of or outside the map - by undervaluing meas a human being and as a citizen.Thus undervalued as a person, I and those like me, are apportioned a smaller piece of ourshared social resources by this prejudiced calculus.
  3. 3. So before we even begin to read any specific map we know that a map is most oftensomebody else’s questions. It is shaped from somebody else’s perceptions. These may ormay or may not be accurate in fact or relevant to our interests. In fact, what we havecome to call a map may not be capable of expressing the sort of information we need inorder to navigate such as sound or smell.All the way in the back of the room can you hear Paulo Freire whispering in my ear thatlearning to read a map can be as politically liberating as learning to read the alphabet?I wonder if Paulo would lead us to a question. Is the fact that my people find so manymaps to be useless related to the fact that people with disabilities are not those whotypically make maps? Can we change that?
  4. 4. They say that the secret to good research is forming the right question. Let’s play withGoogle Maps to see if we can figure out the questions being asked there.I have chosen five maps centering on Guanabara Bay.This first map is actually incomplete. It is a map-in-progress. There are two blue balloonsvisible here. What question might have been in the mind of the mapmaker that causedthem to put these two marks on the map?Right, they want to say something about the relationship between these two locations.The second map shows what? It shows a major automobile route from Rio to Niteroi.Specifically, it starts at the yacht Club in Botafogo and ends at the yacht club south ofNiteroi.
  5. 5. The third map shows a relationship between the Botafogo yacht club and the one inNiteroi if one travels via public transit.The fourth is how a sailor might go from one yacht club to another.Each map requires different information to successfully answer the question it asks.Take a close look at the fifth map. Do you see that it has the same start and end points?Yet it shows a path that goes far past Petropolis up toward Juiz de Fora before it comesback down to Niteroi. Can anyone guess what question Google Maps thinks it isanswering with this map?
  6. 6. The map was generated by asking, “How can I walk from Point A to Point B?” Theanswer is a 415 kilometer trek that takes an estimated 88 hours!OK, so now we know that technology itself, Google Maps for example, is not sufficientto make accurate and useful maps for persons with disabilities.This neglect has created an opportunity for Eduardo Battiston to win an award fromGoogle. He will supplement Google’s map of Sao Paulo with Accessibility View.“Accessibility View,” explain my friends at Universal, “will provide …photographs of sidewalks from the perspective of a wheelchair user, allowing viewers toidentify any potential obstacles along the route, like a lack of curb cuts or a hill that is toosteep.”Eduardo has not yet shown his perspective from a wheelchair viewbut here is an example of a free tool that captures existing Google Map data from thepoint of view of an automobile.HyperLapse is far from the only person trying to resolve this problem of sidewalk navigation.Several years ago I was visited by two Hungarians who went on to create the mobileapplication for self-guided walking tours called Pocket Guide. We worked on learning toperceive data - how to capture the information necessary to be certain that their walkingtours accommodated people with disabilities.One academic paper on this subject of sidewalk navigation was recently sent to me byone of its authors, Benedict Jones.
  7. 7. When Benedict heard I would be speaking to you he sent his paper called “EnhancingWheelchair Mobility through Capture and Use of Terrain Data.” In the paper the authorsmake a start at elaborating protocols for data capture and publication. What I findparticularly relevant is the author’s approach to rating systems for the routes suggested byan application. This approach corresponds to the consensus reached by those of us whoconsult in the field:Expert opinion based on reliable data should be supplemented by the more democraticmultiple user contributions on the same data and routes. This catches the biases ofexperts, the factual errors when inputting or outputting the data, and any changes thatmay have occurred since the experts did their measurements.It also acknowledges that a map is best at representing discrete data points and theirrelationships but not the ‘atmosphere’ of a space. For a fascinating application of theconcept of atmospheres I highly recommend the work of my colleagues Regina Cohen,Cristiane Rose Duarte and Alice Brasileiro in their paper, “Inclusion and Accessibility ofPersons with Disability in Brazil: Senses and Sensations in the Access to PatrimonialHistorical Museums in the State of Rio de Janeiro.”This robust attention to user experience is fundamental to the design process known asUniversal Design. Universal Design must be the process used to create any reliable mapmade for people with disabilities. This is because the map itself must not be seen as‘special” and thus stigmatizing and because such a map is inevitably also useful to thosewithout disabilities. The Institute for Human Centered Design defines the concept thisway:Universal Design is a framework for the design of places, things, information,communication and policy to be usable by the widest range of people operating inthe widest range of situations without special or separate design. Most simply,Universal Design is human-centered design of everything with everyone in mind.
  8. 8. Universal Design is also called Inclusive Design, Design-for-All and LifespanDesign. It is not a design style but an orientation to any design process that startswith a responsibility to the experience of the user.So far we are mainly talking about gathering data. What about effectively communicatingthat data? That exploration tells us that we need to reinvent mapmaking.I want to start this part of the conversation by emphasizing the contributions of a personwith a disability. He is Dr. Joshua Meile of Berkeley California..Josh has created what is called a tactile map of the entire San Francisco Bay Area RapidTransit system. Its raised lines of plastic are supplemented with Braille labels.You may have seen this sort of relief map as near as the Jardim Botanico here inRio. The innovation he has introduced involves yet one more sense – hearing.Key points on the map may be touched with an audio smart pen triggeringrecorded verbal information.
  9. 9. The raised lines on Josh’s transit system map are static and fixed. Anotherlaboratory is working on what is called a haptic display. Here tiny pins in thedevice can be raised and lowered in response to computer commands. You mayhave seen a haptic display as a narrow extra keyboard sitting in front of a blindperson’s laptop. Rather than see words on the screen these refreshable Brailledisplays pop up pins that can be read as words with the fingers. Haptic displaysunder development can be used to make refreshable tactile maps.Recall the video we saw earlier with Google’s images of roads and EduardoBattiston’s idea foe Accessibility View with images of sidewalks Josh worked on theDescriptive Video Exchange. It is a crowd-sourced image description service thatimmediately became popular. It is already being used worldwide to audiodescribe
  10. 10. online versions of films. It can be used to audiodescribe any video used in onlinemaps.Pietr Human in South Africa has been sharing with me his progress withaccessible maps using a different approach. His map, called InCar, geolocates theautomobile using the system and alerts travelers to upcoming points of interestlike an automated tour guide. The system offers detailed verbal descriptions ofthe beauty and history through which one is driving. From the beginning, whenwe met in Johannesburg in 2009, Pietr’s central goal has been to make thisproduct an accessible map. He calls it the “World’s First GPS Tourism AudioVisual Destination Finder. He explains, “The audio-visual presentations providepassengers and kids a fun and meaningful “on the road” pastime. For the firsttime, people with SPECIAL NEEDS, Paraplegics, Deaf/Hard-of Hearing and theBlind are being included with accessibility information that matters to them.”Closer to my home in California, near Apple and Google, Joana Cardosa from Portugaland her partner Shannon Moore are launching an online environment that will be theperfect setting for sidewalk visualizations such as Accessibility View. They describe theirproject, Effortless City, as a sidewalk navigation system where carefully gathered datarelevant to wheelchair users is presented in visually appealing an user-sensitive ways. Infact, the site contains an artificial intelligence algorithm that processes data and packagesit into suggestions for accessible routes customized to each user.Technologies are advancing that allow for the reinvention of maps – texture, sound, staticand moving images can now easily be incorporated in maps. The maps themselves canknow where they are with GPS signals and know who they are talking to with artificialintelligence algorithms.Regardless of the inspiring technology maps will continue to represent the perspectives ofmapmakers.So, as the next generation contribution to accessible maps I suggest something that onlyBrazil can do right now. Leverage the 2016 Paralympics. Include a map-reading andmap-literacy project of conscientizacao in the Rio 2016 Games Cultural Olimpiad. Iwould be happy to be part of a team that does so.We can be certain that directories, maps, and awareness campaigns will be launched fortourists and citizens alike showing the glorious places one can experience in Brazilbefore, during, and after Rio 2016.What if we made a map whose purpose is exactly the opposite? What if we made a mapthat highlights everywhere in Rio that simply is not available to the direct experience ofsomeone in a wheelchair?It would serve as a public education about the experience of physical exclusion in Rio. Itwould also serve the starting point for an action plan for the city to expand itsaccessibility.
  11. 11. To be trustworthy, relevant, and legible it would need to respect its readers.It would need to be auditory and tactile for the blind. It would need to be both verbal andiconic to accommodate those literate in Portuguese and those who are not. It would needto be visual to accommodate the sighted. It would be literal with image-described photosand videos for those whose learning style was highly sight-based but still accessible tothose who are not. It would be increasingly abstract using diagrams, sketches, icons, andspatial relationships for those whose learning style favored the abstract. It would betimely by indicating where accessibility projects were planned or underway. It would bestarkly barren where physical inaccessibility made spaces unknowable to cadeirantesthrough direct experience.It would be art imitating through a new kind of “map” something of the atmosphere thatexclusion infuses in a place.Perhaps we could call it a Map of Saudades. It would be an artistic representation of thesense of the “presence of absence” that people with disabilities sense but do not alwaysarticulate in relation to spaces which they are prohibited from experiencing firsthand.END***Notes:Definition of Universal Design Human City
  12. 12. We want to start from assumptions that are positively biased toward users withdisabilities – mapmaking that is inclusive. We can find clues toward that in the writing ofthe Australian quadriplegic professor Simon Darcy. He wrote on how to presentaccessibility data to travelers with disabilities. Darcy notes that including photos, videos,diagrams, and icons supplemented with actual measurements greatly aids the traveldecision-making process for travelers with disabilities. (A METHODOLOGY FORTESTING ACCESSIBLE ACCOMMODATIONINFORMATION PROVISIONFORMATS) As we noted so does taking advantage of the democratizing influence ofcrowd-sourced ratings.HyperLapse Human
  13. 13. Effortless City Map