India has over 50 million people who are visually impaired. The rest of us follow phone map locations or look at public signs for answers while travelling, but it's difficult for the blind to improvise and navigate in these situations. The solution could well be a Braille atlas.
The National Atlas and Thematic Mapping Organisation (NATMO), a body based out of Kolkata, created the country's first Braille atlas in 2017. Spanning 84 pages, the atlas has maps in black and white that can be read without the assistance of a sighted person. The 20 maps in the first volume cover physical and socio-economic boundaries, as well as rivers, agriculture, natural vegetation, metropolitan areas, cultural sites and road and railway networks.
Developed in Hindi, English, Bengali, Gujarati and Telugu, the unique creation has map outlines which are raised and embossed by employing silk screen printing. Since tactile sensations are heightened for the visually impaired, they can thus feel the shape of regions on this atlas' easily separated by shapes and textures' to get a sense of India's topographical and political divisions. In order to accommodate all place names and meta data in Braille, it was made on A3-sized paper with a scale larger than usual atlases. Future volumes are to be more lightweight and portable. The first edition of the atlas was donated to schools for the blind across the country to help them understand geography more effectively.
While individual maps with raised boundary lines were already in existence, this is the first comprehensive Braille atlas released with high attention to detail. NATMO, whose efforts began in 1997, received a national award in 2017 for their success in empowering the visually challenged. The organisation has also developed maps with accentuated colours for those with partial vision.
The world's first complete atlas for the blind, however, was published in the United States in 1837. It used raised letters of the alphabet instead of braille, since the latter, created in 1825, was not in popular use at the time. Named the Atlas of the United States Printed for the Use of the Blind, it was created for children and published in Boston. Samuel G. How, founder of the New England Institute for the Education of the Blind (now known as Perkins), created the volume with the help of John C. Cray and Samuel P. Ruggles. They showed state boundaries with raised dotted lines, mountains with short raised strokes, and place names with raised lettering. See high-resolution photographs here.