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Tactile Images

Tactile braille image of birds
A tactile braille image of four birds.
Image source: Perkins Archives

Braille is a tactile written language, meaning it relies on touch to be understood. Not all people who are blind or have low vision read braille, but those that do often find that having the option to engage with images in addition to text helps with their learning, understanding, and enjoyment. A textbook without pictures, for example, is far less engaging.

Tactile images have been around much longer than most might assume. The Perkins Archive, includes tactile, technical images of birds, plants, sea life, and fish created by M. Kunz way back in 1902.

Tactile Graphic Standards

The Braille Authority of North America (BANA) promotes and facilitates the use, teaching, and production of braille. In 2011, in collaboration with the Canadian Braille Authority, BANA published guidelines and standards for tactile graphics. The purpose of these guidelines and standards is to provide transcribers, educators, and producers with information about best practices, current methods, and design principles to produce readable tactile graphics for images, math and scientific diagrams, complex diagrams, and more.

This example of a tactile graphic, the thermometer, shows the image and the tactile graphic version.

Illustration of a thermometer and a braille version
An illustration of a yellow and red thermometer and a braille version on a yellow background
Image source: Braille

San Francisco organization Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired provides education, training, and advocacy for people around the world who are blind or have low vision. The Touching the News initiative is a collection of topical large-print and tactile maps, images, graphs, charts, and graphics that can be easily downloaded and printed. When you download a Touching the News graphic, you receive a zip folder with files that can be printed on braille printers, which have an embosser driver. Graphics include a map of Ukraine with cities and regions, the layout of a Major League Baseball field, the 12 signs of the Zodiac, and the Rolling on the Floor Laughing (ROFL) emoji. You can also submit newsworthy topic and design ideas to the suggestion box on the organization's website.

Map of Ukraine in English and in braille
A map of Ukraine in English and in braille.
Image source:
American Printing House for the Blind Tactile Graphic Image Library logo

The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) has a free online image resource where you can download maps, graphs, and diagrams - or collage your own from existing files. The Tactile Graphic Image Library (TGIL) comprises over 2,000 assets, including games, templates, images, and 3D models that can be modified by the user and printed using graphic embossers or a 3D printer. This workshop demonstrates how the TGIL can improve efficiency and accuracy in the production of tactile graphics.

As with any visual media, there are image conventions for braille and tactile graphics to ensure they are readable and easy to perceive. is a resource that promotes design, techniques, and production of braille and tactile graphics.

Silhouette of a human face speaking

Profile: Ka Li

 A full colour illustration of a smiling Emily Willan, including her shoulders and head.
A colourful head and shoulders illustration of Kai Li wearing a purple shirt
Illustration: Rachel Asevicius

Ka Li is a kinesiology student, comic book enthusiast, and National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS) accessibility analyst who is blind and serves on the NNELS testing team. He got his start in accessible publishing by remediating e-books for his own use. Highly versed in assistive technology, Ka uses his expertise and experience to evaluate the accessibility of library and apps and websites across different platforms. He is currently working on tactile projects, including tactile graphics and 3D printing research as well as other ways of making spatial content in e-books and audiobooks more accessible.

Ka specializes in descriptive text and helped to develop and write NNELS' best practice guidelines for image descriptions. Active in raising awareness about disability and digital literacy, Ka often speaks on panels and in webinars about print disability and technologies. During some of these sessions, he provides assistive technology demonstrations, sharing best practices and showing or describing how assistive technology interacts with software. He also educates about tactile images, and the various technologies by which they are created, and participates in the Australian and New Zealand Accessible Graphics group, where he imparts his knowledge and learns from others.