IDEA Center Helps Design BNMC Touch Model to Improve Wayfinding for All

BUFFALO NY– The Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental (IDEA) at the University at Buffalo’s School of Architecture and Planning, and Touch Graphics, Inc., collaborated to create a multi-sensory interactive 3D touch model to assist with orientation and wayfinding on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus (BNMC).

The IDEA Center received a generous gift from the Chur Foundation in January 2021 and used the funds to design, develop, and install the model.

The recently unveiled interactive model is located at the BNMC’s Innovation Center, a home base for campus tours, and a site providing services for over 100 start-up companies and serving as a hub for research and knowledge exchange. The touch model allows users to preview the campus layout, locate buildings, and identify travel routes prior to setting out for their destinations. A user-friendly touch interface that includes visual, auditory, and tactile outputs allows visitors to simply hear or see information related to both the campus and individual buildings.  

All features of the model are touch responsive, including roads, parks, parking lots, and Metro stations. Additional features for accessibility and legibility include braille labels and aerial photographs of building rooftops printed on the 3D buildings.

Jamie Hamann-Burney, Director of Planning and Implementation at BNMC said “We are so grateful to our colleagues at the IDEA Center for bringing this project to us. The model unites a range of technologies being developed at the Center that will speed the creation of more inclusive environments for everyone.” 

The design of the model was developed by first documenting the campus, drawing digital models of the campus’ buildings and landscape, 3D printing the buildings, and laser printing a tactile skin of the landscape. The 3D buildings were treated with a conductive layer and then both tactile skin and the 3D buildings were adhered to the large touch screen. The model works by simple touch commands including tapping once to hear the name of the building and a second time to hear descriptive information. An application was developed to listen to finger touch and provide a corresponding audio description.

“The touch model is an excellent example of how inclusive technology benefits a broad range of users. We’re hoping that this touch model is not only useful for the visitors and staff of the BNMC, but also inspires the thought leaders and tech developers at the Innovation Center to consider the needs of individuals with disabilities in their own work.” Heamchand Subryan, Director of Interaction Design at the IDEA Center.

In addition to the BNMC, similar touch models have been installed at large tech companies, museums, and a national park. The BNMC touch model demonstrates how integrating universal design into wayfinding technology can benefit all visitors and serves as a best practice for similar maps at other medical campuses.

About the IDEA Center

Aside from this project, the IDEA Center, part of the University at Buffalo’s School of Architecture and Planning, is also collaborating with colleagues at the Toronto Rehab Institute/University Health Network and the U. of Pittsburgh on a National Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Universal Design in the Built Environment and partnering with Carnegie Mellon University on a five-year RERC project to advance public transportation for people with disabilities. Both initiatives are funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR). 

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB’s more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

About Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus  

For more than twenty years, The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus organization (BNMC) has been a driving force of Buffalo’s economic renaissance. Throughout its management of the growth of Buffalo’s premier innovation district, the BNMC has foregrounded smart economic, social, and environmental development, prioritizing health & well-being and sustainability. Today, the BNMC is focused on the next phase of Buffalo’s ongoing resurgence, cultivating inclusive innovation in partnership with our community. In 2021 BNMC spearheaded the initiative to bring the national programs EforAll and Eforever to Buffalo. These proven programs support aspiring entrepreneurs from all backgrounds to help them start or grow a business. Program graduates will form the heart of Buffalo’s growing Innovation Community comprised of businesses large and small in an array of disciplines and leading the region’s next wave of economic development and growth. BNMC