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Tuesday, April 2, 2002

Kyoto offers new map and guidebook to help visually impaired enjoy city

Staff writer

KYOTO -- One of the pleasures of visiting an unfamiliar place is to walk around the area with a map in hand. But a normal map is no help to visually impaired people.

News photo
Masakazu Tanaka, head of braille publishing at Kyoto Lighthouse, shows a Kyoto map and guidebook for the visually impaired.

In an effort to meet the needs of the visually impaired who want to walk around Kyoto, the local welfare institution Kyoto Lighthouse has compiled a special map with a rugged surface. The 45-page map corresponds to a four-volume guidebook on Kyoto, rewritten in braille.

"We made the map because we received many calls inquiring about a map that can be easily used by the visually impaired," said Masakazu Tanaka, head of the braille publishing section of the institution. "We want such people from all over Japan to visit Kyoto."

Tanaka, a Kyoto native, emphasizes that the best way to enjoy Kyoto is to visit the sights on foot, instead of going directly by bus or taxi.

The map was created using paper with a specially treated surface, causing the printed parts to swell a little when being produced. The raised areas of the map indicate roads, streets, buildings and tourist spots, among other locations.

Recommended routes described in the guidebook, which also illustrates the history of various sites, are shown on the map with dotted lines.

The creation of the map cost about 2 million yen and was funded by a labor union of Wacoal Corp., a major Kyoto-based manufacturer of women's underwear.

Tanaka said the most difficult part of creating the map was to make it user-friendly by selecting necessary information.

"We had to select information to put on the map to make it simple," Tanaka said. "We also tried to make it user-friendly by making a clear distinction between a major road and a street -- a major road was drawn with a 3 mm line and a street with a 1 mm line, for instance."

Names of some of the famous places are written on the map so that the user can also receive support from those who are not visually impaired.

The map and the guidebook have been distributed to braille libraries and institutions for the visually impaired throughout the country. The products can also be purchased at Kyoto Lighthouse.

Tanaka, who has been working at the institution for 30 years, said the publishing section also recently released a tourist magazine that contains original information compiled by visually impaired people.

"Because most guidebooks for the visually impaired have contained the same information as those for ordinary tourists, simply rewritten in braille, they did not always satisfy the users," Tanaka said. "To close the gap, the magazine was made by visually impaired people who visited the places."

The quarterly magazine includes information such as which street crossings provide audio signals, and which temples have information in braille. The special feature of the first issue of the 120-page magazine was about recommended "hanami" (cherry blossom viewing) spots in the city.

"Although the reading environment for the visually impaired has improved, books on technical and specialist fields, as well as maps, are in short supply," Tanaka said. "We would like to continue publishing original books for the visually impaired, although publishing in this field usually does not pay."

For more information about the map, call Kyoto Lighthouse's publishing section at (075) 466-2268.

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