I have reduced tactile sensitivity as the result of neuropathy from Chiari Malformation, meaning that I am not a great candidate for Braille or a lot of traditional tactile materials that rely on fine details. While I prefer to use color as a way of distinguishing information, there are many cases where it makes more sense to use a tactile label or other tactile materials as a primary or secondary mean of communicating information, and I’ve experimented with a few different options for creating heavier-weight tactile materials that can withstand a fair bit of pressure. Here are my tips for creating tactile images with everyday objects for learners with decreased tactile sensitivity.
Washi tape and thin colored tape may not provide adequate texture contrast, but tapes with a rough or unique texture like outdoors tape, safety tape, marine electrical tape, and similar heavy duty tapes can be used to provide high contrast color and a deep tactile sensation. These types of materials can be cut to size for graphics and used at the edge of stairs or walls to help with orientation and mobility.
Magnets on a sheet pan
While some magnets may be more prone to shifting, this is a great option for creating graphs or simple charts, or for sorting activities. This can be done on a variety of surfaces, not just a sheet pan, but I find that a sheet pan is more portable and can also fit inside of a school desk.
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Thumbtacks and cork
My discrete structures professor had me complete circuit board activities in a tactile format using thumbtacks and cork trivets that were purchased from Ikea so that I could show them how to arrange different structures. While younger students may have to be careful with the sharp end of the tack, this is an easy way to create tactile lines or simple pin drawings, and will not shift if someone pushes down on the top of the pins.
Pipe cleaners/chenille sticks
Wax sticks are more prone to falling apart than pipe cleaners/chenille sticks, which can be arranged into several different shapes. My pre-calculus professor used these frequently in demonstrations for graphing polynomials and the bright colors were easy for me to distinguish as well.
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Glue with colored sand
Clear glue is frequently used for creating tactile images without dramatically altering the appearance of the original image, though this may not be an option for users with decreased tactile sensitivity. One option is to use several layers of glue to form a stronger tactile line, or colored sand can be added to increase the texture sensitivity by sprinkling it over wet glue before it dries. Make sure to shake off excess sand before using the finished tactile materials, or else there will be a giant mess.
Different from Braille, tactile dots or bump dots are large plastic dots that can be affixed to a variety of surfaces. I use tactile dots to label medication bottles and for labeling other household items, and they come in several different sizes and textures.
Foam stickers or 3D stickers provide a soft texture and also use bright color as a way of communicating information. This is a great option for creating art projects or labeling illustrations.
Another option for adding 3D objects, Velcro can be attached to the back of different items so that they remain in place when creating a larger tactile image. I’ve seen a lot of creative ways to use Velcro attachments in tactile picture books on Pinterest, and recommend searching there for inspiration.
Summary of how to create tactile images with everyday objects
- Textured tape can provide a rough texture that can be felt even with reduced sensitivity in the hand
- Magnets on a sheet pan can be rearranged and stored in a desk for easy storage
- Thumbtacks and cork are a sturdy solution for creating tactile images, but younger students will need to be cautious working with thumbtacks
- Pipe cleaners/chenille sticks are more resilient than wax sticks and can be twisted to form several shapes
- Adding sand to glue can make it easier for someone to feel the texture of glue outlines
- Tactile dots are different from Braille and are used for labeling objects
- Foam stickers provide a soft and colorful surface, great for illustrations or art projects
- Velcro attachments allow users to incorporate 3D objects and attach them to tactile images