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Q: Maps for people with learning disabilities ( Answered 4 out of 5 stars,   9 Comments )
Subject: Maps for people with learning disabilities
Category: Science > Social Sciences
Asked by: monicopedro-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 18 Jul 2002 04:44 PDT
Expires: 17 Aug 2002 04:44 PDT
Question ID: 42445
Hi! I am looking for information on how to make maps for people with
learning disabilities. I need to make this, but I can't find anything.
I find material on maps and material on learning disabilities, but not
on both together. I want to know what kind of symbols they prefer,
what scale, what size, what colours, if it's better to use abstract
symbols or pictures, how well they orient themselves with a map.
Subject: Re: Maps for people with learning disabilities
Answered By: inquisitive-ga on 18 Jul 2002 13:57 PDT
Rated:4 out of 5 stars
Hi monicopedro,

What a wonderful and intriguing project. I've searched the Internet
and, while I was unable to find a lot of research in the area of
designing maps for people with learning disabilities, I was able to
locate a few studies and other material which should be of help to you
in your project.

To begin, people with cognitive disabilities often have trouble with
map reading for a variety of reasons. Here are some of the most

   1)Difficulty with spatial reasoning and/or visualization skills

   2)Conditions that cause difficulty reading and/or understanding
written text, such as dyslexia.

A research project titled "People Accessing Community Transportation"
funded by Project Action (Easter Seals) includes some design
considerations for creating maps for all people to use (with an
emphasis on meeting the needs of people with cognitive disabilities) -
(Scroll down to "Module II - Discussion of HART map using
"Modifications Menu" and HART Criteria):

-map should fold easily and fit in pocket or purse
-print type should be large enough to read comfortably
-key information should be distinguished by "larger, bolder or
different color print"
-colors should have a meaning (i.e. color coding) and should be used
-colors should contrast well (i.e. red and green) and variations in
color should be easily distinguished (i.e. red and purple)
-color choice should correspond to natural habitat (i.e. bodies of
water blue; parks/golf courses green)
-can the map be written on?
-symbols should "represent the key landmarks for the people the maps
are targeted to"
-choice of symbols should be fairly universal?
-symbols should be labeled on the map - a symbol key
-map should include a compass rose or "North" arrow
-significant landmarks such as a mountain range, harbor, or major
building/monument should be shown to help in orientation
-Other landmarks such as libraries, parks, hospitals, post offices
should be represented with standard symbols (when possible) and
labeled in position on the map (not in a key or sidebar)
-descriptive information should be simple and easy to read
-streets on the map should "represent the terrain (twists, turns,
etc.) of the street"
-sections of the map should be labeled by neighborhood or area
-mileage scale and walking distances

"Cognitive and Usability Issues in Geovisualization"
This research project is probably a bit too much for your needs, but
I've included it here just in case since it does discuss the use of
symbols and colors.

I did find a number of articles and studies on the Web which relate to
designing universally accessible Web sites for people with cognitive
and other disabilities. Since Web sites are a lot like road maps, I
think you may find that many of the same principles will apply. Here
are two, to give you a start:

1) "Designing for users with Cognitive Disabilities" by Kanta Jiwnani
"The goal of this paper is to serve as a guideline for web-designers
to understand and anticipate what problems people with cognitive and
language impairment face when dealing with information, and how to
successfully compensate for those problems on the World Wide Web"

2) Introduction to Web Accessibility - Cognitive Impairments
"Individuals with cognitive impairments also often benefit from
graphics or icons that supplement the text. The graphics and icons
should aid in the understanding of a page or a link. Purely decorative
graphics may not help these individuals."

You may also want to check out the many journal and other articles
available through ERIC (Educational Resources Information Center) on
mapping and teaching map skills. Most do not apply to people with
learning disabilities, but there are some which you may find useful.
The summaries are available on line and the full-text articles are
available for purchase. I did not include them here as they are in a
database and may not be linked to directly, but you can search for
yourself from this page (start with a simple search such as "map")

Finally, I would recommend that you contact some of the national
organizations for people with learning disabilities and ask for their
recommendations. Here is a list to get you started:

Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder (CH.A.D.D.)

Teaching LD - Council for Exceptional Children

International Dyslexia Association

Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA)

National Center for Learning Disabilities

I hope this answer meets your needs and gets you started on what must
be a very fulfilling project. If you have questions about anything
that I included here, please be sure to ask for clarification.

Best of luck!


Request for Answer Clarification by monicopedro-ga on 18 Jul 2002 16:27 PDT
Dear Inquisitive

Thank you! Especially for the first paper. In fact, the information I
need is really concerned with bus maps! The paper you found is very
interesting and I congratulate you.

You are correct about using the Web design things, it has much to do
with perception and mental operation in relation to (virtual) space. I
already had one site on that, but the papers you found are good. If
you get something more, please tell me ok? Especially in relation to

  the use of pictures vs. abstract symbols vs. perspective views (like
aerial view or aerial picture, from a plane or satelite)
  orientation (should maps be north oriented or isn't that important?)
  scale and area presented on the map

Thank you for this! Thanks also to Beth and Huntsman! Keep working

Clarification of Answer by inquisitive-ga on 18 Jul 2002 19:22 PDT
Hi monicopedro,

I'm sorry that the research study that I provided isn't enough
information. As far as I can tell, it is the largest, most definitive
piece of research on the subject of making public transportation
accessible to people with cognitive disabilities and for designing a
map to best meet their needs. All other articles I've found on the
subject point back to this one as the definitive source and the model
for all other such accessible transportation endeavors.

Knowing that you are looking for bus maps helps quite a bit, however,
as there is a bit more information on "travel training" for people
with learning disabilities.

"Although many technologies and policies exist that can help persons
with visual or hearing impairments use public transit, there is much
less available for persons with cognitive disabilities. Training and
individual attention are key to helping these customers. In addition,
transit agencies need to design materials such as maps, brochures, and
timetables to be as straightforward and understandable as possible.
Research with 81 persons with cognitive impairments indicated that
using symbols along with short text explanation is the best way to
increase understanding of signage for most people. Uniform use of
visual and audio signals, as well as color coding can help a person
who has been trained to recognize the correct bus or train."
From "Transit Operations for People with Disabilities"

"To describe the transit system, use simple text and graphics,
standard symbols, and training [Coburn, et al., 1992].  Useful
techniques to access the correct vehicle include uniform features,
training, standard signage and symbols, audio and visual signals, and
color coding"
From "Improving Bus Accessibility Systems for Persons with Sensory and
Cognitive Impairments"

Information on how to create a useable system map; design guidelines
such as typeface, type size, coding and color strategies, and labels;
the importance of providing concrete landmarks rather than abstract
ones; simplification; etc. This paper is wonderful and should probably
be read in its entirety, with special emphasis on section two
"Suggestions for Passenger Information Aids" and section three "Design
Elements of Information Aids."
"Passenger Information Services: A Guidebook for Transit Systems"

You may also want to read through "Guidelines for Transit Facility
Signing and Graphics"

Overall, though there isn't a huge quantity of research specifically
related to people with cognitive learning disabilities, they appear to
have many of the same needs as seniors, children, and people with
visual disabilities. Overall, the map should be simple, the scale
should be large enough that the streets, landmarks, etc. can all be
named in readable type (10 pt minimum) without the map unfolding to a
size that can't be easily held, landmarks should be easily
identifiable (and should be permanent ones which users are likely to
be familiar with); symbols should be ones that are commonly used and
accepted in other maps (so people can apply any previous map-reading
training), high-contrast color coding should be used to aid in easy
identification of different routes, but the number of routes/colors
should be kept to under ten...

To address your specific questions:

>>the use of pictures vs. abstract symbols vs. perspective views (like
aerial view or aerial picture, from a plane or satelite)<<
Everything I reviewed said that the use of commonly accepted symbols
is the easiest for users to read, especially if they have had
map/travel training (true for many people with cognitive
disabilities). If graphical pictures are used (ie churches, fountains,
etc.) they should be easily interpreted. Consider testing them on
children to make sure they are easily understood.
>>orientation (should maps be north oriented or isn't that
Many people have a hard time negotiating their way if a new map is
presented with a different orientation than the one on which they
learned. Personally I would stick with "north is up" unless you have a
compelling reason to do things differently.

>>scale and area presented on the map<< 
This one is fairly subjective. Consider your final product (you want a
map that when unfolded is easy to handle and which folds down small
enough to fit in a pocket or purse and all buildings, landmarks,
streets, etc. identified in a minimum of 10pt type) and work your way
backward. The smaller the area represented the better, but make sure
that you aren't likely to leave people having to use several maps to
get from point A to point B. Scale should then be chosen to fit your
coverage area, size of final map, and type size.

Search Strategies:
"travel training" map "learning disabilities"
"spatial orientation" maps disabilities
"transit maps" disabilities
"map skills" cognitive disabilities
"map design" learning disabilities
cartography color symbols design simple

I hope these additional resources are what you are looking for. And
don't get frustrated because all of the answers aren't out there - it
sounds like a topic that hasn't been researched a great deal.



Request for Answer Clarification by monicopedro-ga on 19 Jul 2002 03:20 PDT
Dear Inquisitive

Thank you! You deserve a gold medal! And a 5 stars rating for this
answer. If possible, show this to the Google people and tell them that
I would like to give you 5 stars. I am sorry for rating things to
soon, before the clarification. Next time, I will wait and rate only
in the end. I am sorry if the rating cannot be changed for you.

Once again, thank you! Good job!

Clarification of Answer by inquisitive-ga on 19 Jul 2002 15:02 PDT
Hi monicopedro,

No, the rating cannot be changed...but that's OK as long as you are
happy with the answer!  As a tip, you are right - it is best to ask
for clarification first and then rate the answer once you have a final
one. For example, in this case I didn't learn about the bus map slant
until you clarified your question, or a lot of the information I
posted in my clarification may have been included in my original
answer instead.

Just remember - the more specific you are in your question, the better
your answer will be. There is no such thing as giving too many
details, at least in my book :-)

Best of luck with your project and thank you so much for your nice
words about my answer.

monicopedro-ga rated this answer:4 out of 5 stars
I liked it. I know it is a difficult subject. I have tried to find it
and even two other researchers (Beth and Huntsman) could not do it,
although they have made good comments. But, as they said, not good
enough for an answer. I am still waiting for a "miracle", to see if
one of these fellows can find me something more out there. Thank you!

Subject: Re: Maps for people with learning disabilities
From: bethc-ga on 18 Jul 2002 07:54 PDT
Hi monicopedro-ga,

I spent some time looking for information for you, and I noticed that
at least one of my fellow researchers had the question locked for a
time as well. There’s, unfortunately, not much out there, and it’s
such an interesting question.

You may get some help by taking a look at the three excellent books by
Edward Tufte: The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Graphics
Press, 1983; Envisioning Information, Graphics Press, 1990; and Visual
Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative, Graphics
Press, 1997. While not specifically geared toward the learning
disabled, they are masterworks in the concepts of  designing and
presenting graphical information in the most effective manner. They
contain lots of practical advice on how to explain complex material by
simple, visual means. You may be able to find them in your library.

Good luck on this most interesting project.

Subject: Re: Maps for people with learning disabilities
From: huntsman-ga on 18 Jul 2002 09:15 PDT

One source that may be able to help you is:

   Exceptional Parent Magazine

Call their library (bookstore) and ask for suggestions. They may be
able to suggest books of this type or additional resources:


One of EP's articles sounds promising:

   "The Universal Learning Center - 
   Helping Teachers and Parents Find Accessible Electronic Learning 
   Materials for Students with Disabilities"
   by Lucinda M. O’Neill 

The "Universal Learning Center" mentioned in the article can be found
here :

   Universal Learning Center

The ULC is sponsored by the:

   Center for Applied Special Technology [CAST]

Some other CAST efforts include:

   Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: 
   Universal Design for Learning

   National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum (NCAC)

"In a collaborative agreement with the U.S. Department of Education's
Office of Special Programs (OSEP), CAST has established a National
Center on Accessing the General Curriculum to provide a vision of how
new curricula, teaching practices, and policies can be woven together
to create practical approaches for improved access to the general
curriculum by students with disabilities."

The government OSEP Web site is here:

   U.S. Department of Education
   Office of Special Education Programs

You might also explore some of the links in the following Google

   Google Directory
   Arts > Writers Resources > Non-Fiction

Look through the following Google search results:

   writing illustrating "special needs"

I hope this helps,
Subject: Which learning disabilities?
From: ulu-ga on 18 Jul 2002 09:38 PDT
Because there is a wide variety of LDs, is there a particular one you have in mind?
Subject: Re: Maps for people with learning disabilities
From: monicopedro-ga on 18 Jul 2002 09:52 PDT
Thank you. I am sorry to ask you this, but are you a Google
Researcher, or a Registered User. I don't understand, because if you
are a researcher, you should give answers, not comments. On the other
hand, if you are a user, how can you see some fellow researchers
locking my question?

Please, forgive me. but it is my first time here. Thanks!
Subject: Re: Maps for people with learning disabilities
From: monicopedro-ga on 18 Jul 2002 09:53 PDT
SORRY, the last comment was for Beth.
Subject: Re: Maps for people with learning disabilities
From: monicopedro-ga on 18 Jul 2002 09:55 PDT
Dear ULU

Yes, there are several kind of Learning Disabilities. I am interested
in Learning Disabilities in general, in a mild form, because the maps
I want to produce are for those people.
Subject: Re: Maps for people with learning disabilities
From: bethc-ga on 18 Jul 2002 09:59 PDT

I assume you're talking to me, as I made the remark about seeing a
fellow researcher had a lock.

Yes, I am an official Google Researcher, as is huntsman. The reason we
have posted comments and not answers is that we do not feel that what
we have found qualifies as a total answer to your question. We have
found some information that may be helpful to you, but we do not feel
that our findings are complete or sufficient enough to justify taking
your money.

So we're just passing along some stuff that might help.

Hope this clears it up.

Google Researcher
Subject: Re: Maps for people with learning disabilities
From: huntsman-ga on 18 Jul 2002 10:02 PDT
Here's another interesting CAST service, It analyzes Web pages for
special needs usability:

Here is their result for Google's main page (://
Note the various comments provided in the report:
Instructions for understanding the report are here:

   How to Read the Bobby Report

I used this search:

   graphic design for people with learning disabilities
Subject: Re: Maps for people with learning disabilities
From: gmac-ga on 06 Aug 2002 13:13 PDT
The Life-long Learning and Developmental Center (L3D) at the
University of Colorado has a number of related projects under the
title CLever (for Cognitive Lever).  These projects are intended to
provide cognitive aids to help those with cognitive disabiltiies to
fnction in the everyday world.  Many of these are funded by the
Coleman Family Foundation (pre-stock-crash, it was the largest single
contribution to a public university).  One of the CLever projects
deals specifically with mobility issues  and public transportation
systems.  Information is available on this project at
with a one-page PDF about this project available at
and information about all the CLever projects is available at

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