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Tactile Maps and Anthony Doerr

What do Pulitzer Prize winning novels, the streets of Paris France, and tactile maps have in common?

I recently read the Pulitzer Prize winning novel All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. The novel takes place during World War II and one plot of the novel centers on a young girl named Marie-Laure, who lives with her father in Paris, France. Marie lost her vision when she was six years old. Her father, a museum locksmith with a knack for puzzles and building things, teaches Marie how to live life without her vision. He taught her how to use a mobility cane and how to read braille. She loved reading classic novels in braille and getting lost in the stories. His most innovative teaching tool was a detailed scale model of their neighborhood in Paris that Marie could use to memorize by touching the streets, buildings, storm drains, benches, and trees. When they would go for walks, he would stop in a random location and tell her to find her way home. After a few weeks of these activities, she was finally able to visualize her location in the city based on the scale model map.  She would use her memory of the tactile map to find her way back to their apartment.

In reading this novel, I am reminded of the people that I work with on a daily basis who are blind and have to figure out alternative ways of navigation. One way they learn an area is by memorizing a tactile map. I recently had the pleasure of helping a young man learn the layout of Thomas Media radio station in downtown Jackson, where he is doing his internship. We created a tactile map on a felt board that consisted of the layout of the radio station.  He was able to memorize by touch where objects were located on each floor.  When he went to work at the radio station, he knew where everything was, including chairs and potted plants, based on his memory of the tactile map.  Using his long white mobility cane, he can now navigate the radio station independently. His next project is learning to navigate around downtown Jackson. We created a tactile map on felt board and also printed a 3D map for him to carry. With the help of these maps, he can memorize the locations of buildings and streets before walking the routes in person. His goal is to travel independently from the Thomas Media radio station to various restaurants and businesses in the downtown area.

A 3D Printed Map of Downtown Jackson

A 3D Printed Map of Downtown Jackson

The other central conflict in the book is the location of a rare diamond that was once held at the museum where Marie’s father worked.  People from all around Europe were searching for this diamond, but Marie was the only one able to find it. It was hidden in a puzzle box in one of the tactile maps her father had made.  Because of the creative approach Marie had to take in everyday life, she was uniquely able to solve the problem that baffled everyone else.  This makes me think about the creativity my clients require to live their everyday lives.  Whether they’re making cabinets, working at a radio station, attending college classes, or cooking at home, I’m always impressed by the ways our clients use ingenuity and technology to live their lives.  We are blessed to be a part of the process, equipping them to exercise new skills and navigate new environments.

Bonus: Watch students from Jackson State’s Occupational Assistant Program experience a blind simulation at the Star Center!


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