If you have good eyesight, you probably take it for granted. But visual impairments affect every aspect of a person’s life. It doesn’t just make it difficult to get it around, it makes it difficult to perform most tasks because we’ve built a world where sight is almost a requirement. That extends to the maker world, too. Even identifying a resistor is nearly impossible if you’re color blind — complete loss of sight is, of course, far more challenging. That’s why Lauren Race has created standards for tactile schematics that can be read by touch.
Race designed these tactile schematics as a thesis project for NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, with help from advisors Tom Igoe and Amy Hurst. The idea is simple: to create a braille-like system for tactile electronic schematics. But just because the concept is simple, that doesn’t mean the execution is easy. It’s not as straightforward as just making existing schematic symbols tactile, because those weren’t designed for touch. Even something as simple as a leader line had to be redesigned to be readable using only touch.
Aside from creating a whole new standard for the shape and style of schematic symbols, Race also needed a practical way for people to print tactile schematics. For that, she turned to the Swell Form Machine. The machine heats up printed paper, and causes black ink — but not other colors — to swell so it can be felt. That creates a unique opportunity, because schematics can be printed in black for the visually-impaired, and have color labels so people who don’t know braille can still read them. By taking advantage of that, a single schematic can be made that anyone can read, regardless of how good their eyesight is.