3D campus map assists students with visual challenges

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Adam Heet with the 3D campus map

Adam Heet with the 3D campus map

Maddie LinkMaddie Link

As rising junior Madeline Link prepared to attend Notre Dame as a freshman, her father helped her learn the lay of the land. He built a cardboard model of campus for Madeline, who has visual challenges. 

Not stopping there, her dad contacted the University architect’s office about the availability of a tactile campus map to help Madeline navigate campus. Craig Tiller, senior director of project management at Notre Dame, connected the family with the Architecture Library.

Adam Heet, digital projects specialist at the Center for Digital Scholarship and the Architecture Library, met with Madeline and her family. Heet began to think about creating a topographic model of the campus that is useful for people with disabilities. He knew that he and architecture students could make models of campus buildings because they had been doing 3D modeling for a number of years. The challenge was finding a way to depict sidewalks, paths and curbs in the map board. 

“Our initial concepts were made using scissors and X-acto knives to create the detail in the map and were a bit clunky,” Heet says. When he realized they could have access to the computer-assisted design files for the campus, he knew he could use the laser printer to cut very precise details in the mat board that were faithful to the actual layout of campus. “It was fantastic,” he says. 

The map is a combination of 25 square tiles, each representing a section of campus, that fit together to make the large tactile campus map. It breaks the information down in smaller increments for students to digest more easily. “They might first learn the campus areas around their dorm,” Jennifer Parker, head of the Architecture Library, says. “And later, they can focus on another section of campus like the areas where they attend classes or the library.” 

To complement the large tactile campus map, Heet also created smaller portable campus map tiles that fit in a student’s backpack. “The two tactile maps are meant to be used in tandem,” says Heet. “Students can easily take four to five segments of the portable map and and carry them around while they learn them.”

The timeline for completing the project extended beyond the date Madeline started classes her freshman year. Nevertheless, she’s served as a valuable consultant on the project throughout its development. “Maddie has been our inspiration,” he says. “We started working on ideas before she came to campus. It’s turned into a project to help other students and Maddie’s been our go-to person.” 

“I think it’s incredible,” says Madeline. “It’s a wonderful way to use technology to make the campus more accessible for everyone.” Madeline enjoys her work with Heet and the architecture students. As the project consultant, she ensures that someone without sight can follow the sidewalks and feel the textural difference between sidewalks, parking lots and streets. 

Madeline, Heet and Notre Dame architecture students have especially enjoyed working on a project that is doing good for the campus. “It’s been like designing and creating the game of LIFE,” Heet says, “but it’s the Notre Dame campus.” It’s been a fun project for the architecture students, too. “It not only teaches students how to make 3D models of buildings,” says Heet, “but it also teaches them to think about how the campus can be presented. Students and faculty who have been on campus for years are still surprised by the scale and relationship between buildings they use every day.” 

Portable map sections can be carried in a backpack.Portable map sections can be carried in a backpack

When completed, the map will be donated to the Sara Bea Learning Center for Students with Disabilities on campus. Heet is delighted to use the library’s 3D technology to create something that makes campus more accessible for Madeline and others with similar challenges, which may include faculty and staff. 

Madeline’s mother, Kathy Link, adds, “I cannot say enough about the people in the architecture library. Adam and Jennifer were wonderful. The map will not only be helpful to Madeline, but also to other students who have trouble getting the lay of the land.”