New map offers the blind a view of Prague

Photo: CTK

Prague is renowned as one of the most beautiful and striking cities in Europe, but for those who are blind such beauty is more difficult to appreciate. Now however, a new project offers further possibilities for the visually impaired to experience the city. A map for the blind, launched this week and covering the entirety of the Czech capital's historical centre, has been produced by Prague City Hall in conjunction with blind people's groups. The map is merely the first in a collection that will be completed by the end of 2007, potentially helping blind people find their way round the whole of the city.

Radka Fuxova,  photo: CTK
The launch of the map marks the culmination of the joint efforts of Prague City Hall, a blind people's group called SONS, and the library and publishing house for the blind. And it was a lot of work: the organisers of the project had first to find the appropriate state funding, then the data had to be digitally prepared and arranged. Once the map had been printed, consultations with the blind had to be conducted to insure it was practical.

None of this would have been possible without the map's author, Radka Fuxova:

"I started to make this map after my final thesis at university. I was studying geo-cartography in Brno and then I received my final thesis in cartography, making maps for the blind. So then I started to work with blind people I made my first map, I saw how blind people are interested in this map and so I continued to make it and it really helps them."

Photo: CTK
The relief map comes in A3 notebook format, in sixty pieces, and is printed on specially pressed thin plastic. It can be read by means of various raised layers and other three dimensional elements such as points and lines. Important orientation points, monuments, streets and metro lines, along with Braille inscriptions all serve to colour the tangible picture of the city offered to those using the map. To make it more accessible to international visitors, the key in Braille relief is also provided in English.

Other detailed maps of the city currently in preparation are to cover Prague Castle, Wenceslas Square, Old Town Square and the Central Station Area, and are on schedule to be released at the end of the year. In total there will be fourteen maps in the series.

Photo: CTK
Prague City Hall has already stated that it will pay four hundred thousand crowns for sixty maps for the blind. It is not the council's only project for the disabled. Also in preparation are maps for the wheelchair-bound, to include four wheelchair accessible routes around the city, with a key in eight languages.

Similarly, the City Hall's maps for the blind are far from a one-off. Though the series is the first of its kind in Prague, it is not the first in the Czech Republic, and is part of an ongoing project to make European cities more accessible to the blind. Radka Fuxova again:

"I have made maps for Opava and for Brno, now I'm making maps for Prague. For sure Ostrava is interested and other cities, because if they heard that I made these maps they really want these maps too, because they know that it is good for them, for blind people. Now I'm working in Stovarga in Norway, so now I would like to offer these maps to Norway."

The maps are soon to be made available in schools, information centres and libraries throughout the city.