Maps and Graphics for Blind and Partially Sighted People

Mapping for Visual Impairments

3705.3 - Characteristics of Verbal Maps for Visually Impaired People on the Website in Japan

Monday, July 3
4:50 PM - 5:10 PM
Location: Virginia C


While developments in ICT have improved visual route guidance tools such as guide maps, there are few such tools supporting travel for visually impaired people. Recently, however a group of visually impaired people in Japan have started to make verbal maps for themselves and share them on websites. These maps contain much information necessary for travel, and how to communicate such information with others. This study examines the characteristics of these verbal maps and through them explores the possibilities of language to represent space and how maps can represent such verbal-spatial information.

Data and Method

To this end, an empirical analysis was carried out in the 23 Special Wards of Tokyo using verbal maps made by a non-profit organization called Kotoba-no-Michiannai, which is managed by a group of visually impaired people living in Tokyo. These verbal maps are intended to guide users from the nearest train or subway station to a destination building via a route shown on the website. I conducted a content analysis of 201 verbal maps whose destinations were located within the study area, by the following method: classification of the referents in the verbal maps into five types (path, node, landmark, edge, and district) on three scales (body scale, larger-than-body scale and macro scale). Then, representation style was analyzed in terms of the frame of reference (intrinsic, relative, or absolute) and the layout of referents (survey style or route style).


The verbal maps had 5,442 referents, of which 45% were paths, 2% nodes, 37% landmarks, 10% edges, and 6 % districts. More than half of the referents were body or larger-than-body scale. Most of the former were landmarks and edges, such as “pole,” “curb,” and so on; the latter were mostly paths and districts, for example “sidewalk,” “premises,” etc. Macro-scale referents were frequently described on the verbal maps too. About 70% of them were landmarks and edges, such as “commercial building,” “road,” “railroad,” etc., which can be regarded as cues to the macro-scale structure of space around destination buildings.

The three-way ANOVA revealed highly significant main effects and three- and two-way interactions of types, frames, and layout of referents for the number of referents. None of the referents was represented with absolute frame of reference. In principle, some referents, specifically paths and districts, are described with an intrinsic-route style. However, nodes such as intersections, which are macro-scale referents, were described in both intrinsic-route and relative-survey styles. Some landmarks and edges located around places where visually impaired people may have to turn or stop are described in a relative-survey style.


The findings obtained can be summarized as follows: 1) Visually impaired people need geospatial information about multiple types and scales of objects represented in various styles. Such flexibility in the representation of space is superior in verbal maps as compared to visual maps. However, verbal maps make it hard to represent macro-scale space in a survey style. 2) Visually impaired people looking for geospatial information to plan their travel behavior need two types of maps: “area maps,” which represent macro-scale objects around destination buildings in a survey style; and “route guidance maps,” which contain detailed route information in an intrinsic-route style and body-scale landmarks and edges in a relative-survey style. Also, it is vital to provide these map types separately, not simultaneously.

Masahiro Tanaka

Graduate student
Tokyo Metropolitan University

Masahiro Tanaka is a geographer who received his M.S. degree in geography from Tokyo Metropolitan University and is a doctoral student there. He explores social, political, technological, and cognitive problems related to geospatial information and map-making for marginalized people, particularly visually impaired people. His research interests include behavioral geography, geographies of disability, geographical information science, and critical GIS. His current research focuses on empowerment of visually impaired people with public participatory GIS (PPGIS).


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Amy Lobben

university of oregon

Amy Lobben is a professor in the department of geography at the university of oregon. She received her PhD in geography from mighigan state university. Her primary research and teaching interests lie in neurogeography, geospatial cognition, and accessibility. She co-runs the Spatial Computation, Cognition, and Complexity Lab and the Map by NorthWest (MxNW) group with colleague Chris Bone.


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3705.3 - Characteristics of Verbal Maps for Visually Impaired People on the Website in Japan

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