Mind mapping for people who are blind

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To use the mind map, pick one of these links:- Above image, full size
Text outline for Braille reader
MindManager .mmap file
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Flash needs latest version.

Twitter throws up a challenge!

A blind person on Twitter asked about products to help him mind map. He “will need to do many mind maps for a course” he wrote, and “do you know anything on Pictorial Guides?? it’s another thing i need to use in this economics course. thanks!”

This is a challenge, need I say, because mapping of any sort is intensely visual.

This is a community page where WikIT has been working with mapping and accessibility experts from Twitter and LinkedIn Groups to help this student, and we hope others with the same need in future. There have been 30 contributors so far.

If you can add your expertise, please create an account** and jump in. Click the ‘Discussion’ tab at the top of this page to see all the ideas and information that others have contributed, and add your own. If you’re not familiar with Wikipedia-type editing, please tweet @roygrubb with the information you want added.

The response to my call to help the student has been amazing. Take a look at the Discussion tab to see how amazing.

The ideas so far are consolidated in the mind map on the right and summarized in “Immediate help“ below. I hope this article apart from the images can be scanned to Braille. I know little about screen readers and Braille output, so if users of these devices can suggest better ways of laying out the text, please tweet @roygrubb.

Update: 2016-5-30

Enterprise Architect @michalrada, who is himself blind, just pointed out Plantext to me. It’s a slick UML diagram maker that works straight from text. This helped me realize that blind users would find software that worked from text better than any other approach for creation, so for producing mind maps, perhaps Text2Mindmap would be useful. It would not help with perceiving the diagrams produced, though. In the five years since this article was written, we can only hope that screen readers and other equipment to help non-sighted workers have come down in price, as regular IT equipment has.

Update: 2016-9-19

This came up on Reddit: A relevant article in the subreddit /r/Blind

Update: 2016-10-28

News of a device under development that, in a few months, may offer another alternative “This Powerful Wearable Is a Life-Changer for the Blind”

Update: 2017-01-16

Blitab, a tablet with a Braille interface, looks like a promising step up for blind and low vision people who want to be part of the educational, working and entertainment worlds of digital life. “Blitab Technology develops tablet for the blind and visually impaired”


We need to consider the following activities: A blind student making maps, whether for better understanding of a topic or for handing in as part of course work, and consuming maps. These may be maps of others on the course – in a study group for example – or his/her own maps for revision.

The products that the student has are aimed it making words accessible by a voice synthesizer.

While a partially-sighted person might be able to use high-contrast screen settings and an enlarger, this person is blind, so to understand mind maps, touch or sound seem to be the only options.

It seems that if we have a solution for graphical elements of mind maps, there is a reasonable chance that it will help with any form of image, but color is likely to be a problem, if elements of a diagram are color coded.

We started with the questions: Is there a device to render images as raised dots? Now we believe there are other options.


The student is at present using text reading software. On Windows: NVDA and JAWS® screen reading software; On Mac OSX and on iOS VoiceOver

Immediate help[edit]

Knowing that the student is technically-oriented, we believe that the following summary of suggestions can be to evaluated in practise now – more detail and future ideas appear in ‘Detailed Findings’, the next section:

  • The Livescribe pen with raised line drawing kit.
  • VoiceOver with iPhone with iThoughts, and if budget allows, iPad with iThoughtsHD.
  • Org-mode (download) with Emacspeak (Emacs info). Exporting Org-mode files to FreeMind (download) or Freeplane (download).
  • Using MacSpeech Dictate and MS Excel prepare propositions as text in a spreadsheet. Import to Cmap (download)
  • Obtain ZoomText/Reader software to see if it offers any benefits over NVDA and JAWS. It is available on one month’s free trial.
  • And just for completeness: Continue working with @Jennison and Leo Roman, drawing on their ideas and experience.

Detailed Findings[edit]

Suggestions made can be divided into two categories: Analogue: manipulating real-world materials mainly involving touch, and digital: supported by computer technology using touch and hearing.


  • A special pen that raises the paper surface for drawing and allows writing in Braille. This was successfully used once by a participant in a mind mapping and drawing course. Ahead of the course, the trainer prepared some raised images to support the blind person’s participation in the course and discussed it with them in advance. For a student on a regular economics course, whether this is as successful will depend on support from lecturers.
  • Thick paper, using a stylus to gouge out lines, form and textures. Using a Braille writer to write words, and glue them to the paper, positioning by feel according to the depressions made by the stylus. Possibly using the stylus to write.
  • Thin card, using string and thick plastic glue in a glue gun to draw the mind map. Branches are varied in width and texture to help the order to be recalled. A product called Wikki Stix was suggested – a possible substitute for a glue gun. “Colorful, versatile wax and yarn combination, Wikki Stix will stick together without glue for easy arts and crafts projects. No preparation, no cleanup. Twist and bend into flat designs … . Reusable. Will not crumble, break, or dry out.”
  • Use adhesive plastic shapes of the type used for mosaic, or use Lego bricks. Differentiate by shape, texture and density, glue words in Braille to plastic forms. Use string, plastic tape, wool, copper wire for connectors.
  • Most usefully, two people offered direct help to the student. One is himself blind so can contribute practical knowledge of what works and what does not.


Computer technology may support spacial information about mind or concept maps and allow the blind mapper to work by touch, sound or a combination.


  • The iPad and iPhone have many mind mapping packages and they also run VoiceOver which can read text back to a blind user. Given that this is activated by touching the screen at the position of the words, it will also give some clue about the layout, but not feedback on the lines (edges) joining the nodes. iThoughtsHD on the iPad or iThoughts on iPhone would be a good app to try.
  • Inspiration software has a built in talking/listening interface. These three videos demonstrate how the software reads text on nodes, can read out loud its user interface controls and recording sound against nodes. Likely more help for a partially-sighted user than someone completely without sight.
  • Use Org-mode (download) to prepare maps as outlines – easy to navigate and probably well-supported by Emacspeak. (Emacs info) Can be exported to FreeMind (download) or Freeplane (download).
  • Use Cmap as follows: Prepare propositions as text in a spreadsheet with dictation software. Import text and it makes a concept map. It has been tried with MacSpeech Dictate and MS Excel and works.
  • Also Prof. Sanchez, University of Chile, has developed concept mapping software for blind students. @roygrubb emailed Prof. Sanchez and learned that the current status was as follows: “This product and others related to using concept maps for designing videogames are under research right now. AudiodMC came from dMC (for sighted users) that was used in Chilean schools.” So this comes under the heading of ‘useful futures’.
  • JAWS and ZoomText/Reader have been recommended as products. The student has JAWS and NVDA.
  • The FreeMind mind mapping software can be controlled with spoken commends using a Simon voice control scenario developed by a user called Doug. The link gives all the details. I have asked Doug if this can also accept dictated conent for nodes.

Touch and Sound[edit]

  • The Livescribe pen + raised line drawing kit: “Using the smart pen with a raised line drawing kit allows visually impaired and blind people a chance to interact with the diagrams and pictures.”
plan-b ©Oriko Design büro
  • plan.b“, a prototype only, that translates digital (geographical) maps to tactile maps on pin matrix and includes sound components. There is no sign that this is in production or that it can handle mind maps, but the potential seems evident. The link just given is the best source of information but the designer was Oriko Design büro.
  • Virtual Maps For The Blind“ haptic (touch-active) feedback on a joystick for virtual worlds. Is it applicable to mind maps? @roygrubb has written to author Dr. Lahav.



Thanks for publicity to @visualmapperorg for a blog post at VisualMapper.org, to @soulati for her post at the SMB collective, to @vicgee for his post at mind-mapping.org and all the responses and re-tweets so far.

The progress report has grown so large that it has been transferred to the Discussion tab

Thanks for ideas, offers of help and shared knowledge of experience to those who have contributed so far:

@assistivetek; @sachac; @jamienast; @roygrubb; @vicgee; Leo Roman; @Jennison; @Roopakshi; @VisualLeap; Brian Moon; Prof. Alberto J. Cañas; Prof. Jaime Sánchez; Jennison Asuncion; Roy Blumenthal; David Hyder; Fred Lakin; Brandy Agerbeck; Idriss Ait-Bouziad; Roberta Faulhaber; Michel Laan; Tim Fulford; Raju Mandhyan; Chandrashekhar Ranade; Michael Gerochi; Neil Auty; Brian Friedlander; Barbara Tversky; Jesse Berg.

If I have missed anyone please let me know.

This is cool: Prof. Alberto J. Cañas has given us some useful information about a project in the University of Chile. And in case you don’t know, he is a co-author of many papers with Prof. Joseph Novak, and is one of the originators of concept mapping.

Spread the word[edit]

I know something about mind mapping software but most of what I know about accessibility options I have learned while building this page, so I will not write any more, other than to ask all to contribute their knowledge, or point this out to anyone they know with experience in this field.

If you’re on Twitter, you might consider tweeting this:

Helping the blind engage with visual methods when a course demands it: Do you have specialist knowledge? Can you help? http://bit.ly/h25M3H

Addendum – Other accessibility resources[edit]

Here is an item that may not help with mind mapping without sight, but is in the same area: BrailleTouch keyboard allows typing on a phone without looking. YouTube demonstration of this, for sighted readers. A paper on this from Georgia Institute of Technology.

and here are some sources of information for the visually impaired, related not to mind mapping but to relevant accessibility matters:

Guide to Room-by-Room Repairs for Easy Accessibility for Disabled Loved Ones

How to Adapt Your Home if You’re Blind or Visually Impaired

20 Home Modifications for People with Vision Loss

Contrast and Color

Lighting in and around the home: A guide to better lighting for people with sight loss

Creating Accessible Kitchens for the Visually Impaired

How to Make Life Easier and Safer for Seniors with Low Vision

6 Early Warning Signs of Vision Loss The Process of Adjusting to Vision Loss

Home Fire Safety for People who are Blind/Low Vision

Childproofing Your Home for a Child with Vision Impairment

Prepare a Visually Impaired Child for Daycare

Accessible Entertaining: Making Sure Your Disabled Guests Feel Safe and Welcome in Your Home

How to Design a Sensory Garden for the Blind or Visually Impaired

Legal Requirements of Hiring a Person with a Visual Impairment

Workplace Accommodations

Setting Up the Home Office After Vision Loss

House Hunting with Vision Loss

The Ultimate Guide to Optimizing Your Home for a Service Dog

Building Critical Milestone Skills for a Visually Impaired Infant/Toddler

How to Set Up a Productive Home Office if You Are Blind or Have Low Vision

College Guide for Students with Visual Impairments

Home, Safe Home: Getting Started with Accessible Home Security

(I am not connected to any of the sites linked to in this addendum. I added them at the request of Steve Johnson of publichealthlibrary.org, Jillian Day of assist.org, Elmer George of elderville.org and Tanya Lee of abilityvillage.org as the links look useful resources for visitors to this page.)

For free information about the hundreds of
visual thinking tools available, visit the

Visual Thinking Center