How are YOU handling the high O&M needs for your soon-to-graduate high school student who is transitioning to college? Ideally, this student would have spent time in the spring of his senior year learning his college campus; however, COVID-19 and school closures have shaken things up! Typically, if the student has been admitted to a local university, you - his high school O&M - would begin campus orientation by walking routes on campus and/or introducing the campus layout using maps. If your student has chosen a university that is too far away to physical walk the campus, tactile maps and/or digital "look around" feature in an accessible GPS app might have been incorporated into his spring O&M lessons.
A few weeks ago, SAS Graphics Accelerator released a new Maps feature. O&Ms can now quickly create custom, accessible digital maps that can be shared! Students open the map on their computer and can explore the campus to discover the names of streets, buildings, and landmarks. Students can use the map to begin building a mental map of the campus and learn spatial relationships between the items marked on the map.
A former O&M student of mine will be attending Elon University in the fall and is interested in learning more about his future university. Making things a little more challenging, I am not familiar with Elon University, so I am unable to draw information from personal knowledge and campus experiences! So, what are my options as we continue to follow the stay-at-home orders? How can I learn important information about the campus in order to create an accessible map and share that map with the student?
Research the University (COMS)
My O&M student has only been on campus for a quick group tour more than a year ago before he applied to the university. He was herded in a large group around the campus and did not receive any individual tours or information. His dorm has not been assigned yet and he has not yet registered for specific classes. Typically, students attend a "freshman orientation" overnight on campus the summer between high school and college; however, due to school closures, this will not be an option this summer.
I'm all about self-advocacy, so first, I asked the student to do his own research about the campus and to come up with a list of campus locations that he will need to know.
Then, I worked on building my knowledge of the campus by:
- Visual familiarization using Google Maps
- Contacted a personal friend who is an Elon alumni
- Internet search for specific details
- Internet search for broad information
First, I pulled up Google Maps and visually familiarized myself with the campus, general layout of the campus, street names, and names of prominent buildings. I pulled on my previous college campus experiences and made a list of critical things that an incoming student with visual impairments will need to know.
Second, I contacted another teacher who is an Elon alumni for information about main campus attractions. I also asked about areas that are important to incoming freshman, such as which dorms are freshman dorms, which buildings offer the traditional freshman courses, student center, library, etc. This teacher also mentioned one busy street that intersects the main part of campus that has three crosswalks; one of which is a dangerous crosswalk because drivers have limited visability of pedestrians in the crosswalk. I sent her a screenshot of the street in question and asked her to annotate the locations of the three crosswalks and took note of the potentially dangerous crosswalk. I also asked about acoustic landmarks (such as water fountains) that may be beneficial to a visual impaired traveler.
Third, I did an internet search for specific things, such as the "address of the accessibility office at Elon University" and learned that the office is in Belk Library in room 226.
Fourth, I did an internet search for broad information including required courses for incoming freshman on the Elon University website and "buildings Elon University freshman should know". I was happily surprised to find several articles, including the 7 Buildings you Need to Know at Elon University article.
Creating a Customized Elon University Map
Since the SAS Graphics Accelerator Maps is brand new, cutting-edge software, I decided to create a basic map of Elon University first. This student is tech savvy and plans on studying computer science, so I simply shared the SAS link to the SAS Graphics Accelerator Map instructions and the post about how students can upload the custom map post which includes several sample maps. The student looked over these things while I created the custom maps of Elon University.
Note: If my student was not as tech savvy, I could have walked him through these steps through a Zoom meeting.
Determining Items to be Included in the Map
When created any kind of map, I always consider the goals of the map and my student's personal abilities. Since the student has not used the accessible digital maps previously, I decided to create a basic map first, with the goal to introduce a few points on campus while checking that the student fully understands the mapping software. Knowing this student has terrific O&M skills, is insanely curious, and has terrific tech skills, I also made a second map with tons of campus details, that my student can zoom in on a particular area or jump to specific locations and look around from that viewpoint. (This detailed map may be overwhelming for some O&M students!) I also anticipate making additional maps, such as a map that shows places to eat and hang out that are within walking distance of campus, a larger map that shows where Elon is in relationship to major roads to additional cities in the state.
When my student knows his dorm assigment and class schedule, I will create a map with these POIs and a few landmark POIs and streets. I could add the class room number to the POI's labels, if desired.
Labeling items in the Map
When creating the POIs in the map, how you label the POIs is important.
- Do not use abbreviations
- Add tags such as "intersection" or "academic building"
- For buildings in important locations, include the street that the building is on
Currently, when abreviations such as "st" or "n" are used, screen readers do not announce the full word such as "street" or "north". Google Maps and other visual maps use icons - small images - to indicate restaurants, hotels, academic buildings, parks, etc. When labeling accessible digital maps, include the name of the item, followed by a comma, then the tag (or type of item). Example: Phoenix Drive and North O'Kelly Avenue, intersection, roundabout". When appropriate, if a building is located in an important location, include the street that the building is on. Example: "McEwen Dining Hall on North Willimason Avenue". Keep in mind that many campus buildings, such as the residential halls on the Elon campus are not located on a street.
Note: If the name of the building includes the type of building, a tag is not needed. Example: "Smith Resident Hall".
If bus routes are available, bus stop labels might include the street name/stop and possibly the bus route number/name.
SAS Graphics Accelerator Resources
- Activities that Build Mental Map Skills (Concrete activities that prepare students for digital map skills)
- How to Create Accessible Digital Maps Using SAS Graphics Accelerator and Google Maps post (step-by-step instructions on how to create a customized map)
- SAS Graphics Accelerator Maps: Student Uploading and Accessing Maps post (Use the directions in this post to upload the Elon University Maps)
Want to explore Elon University? Install SAS Graphics Accelerator (see post #2 for directions) and the upload the .html map file(s) below (see post #3 for directions).