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The first step of developing the project was a complete tour of the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, MA.  Kevin Hartigan became my contact at Perkins. throughout the process.

ALT TEXT   A bearded man wearing a lanyard walks through stone archway to greet two boys, one tall and one short.  I am the tall one and I am wearing a baseball cap and an athletic jacket

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The DCR trail near Perkins served as a model for many of the moves that we made with the Tupelo Trail.  

ALT TEXT There is a sandy trail in an open field.  A man leads me along it as I am holding a guide rope on the right. 

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Touring the DCR Blind Trail near Perkins with my blindfold, I was able to get an idea of what kind of exhibits would and wouldn't apply to the Tupelo Trail. 

ALT TEXT  In my blindfold, I am feeling a stone thatis  inscribed with a tactile image

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The info stations on the Perkins/DCR trail served as a point of departure for my design.

 

INNOVATION: I later decided that the inlaid design was overly complex and distracting so I modified our plan to create one uniform surface.

ALT TEXT  I am smiling as I feel an information stand along the trail.  It is made of stone and it has a sloped metal surface that shows regular text on the front and braille on the back.  The guideropes stretch out in the background.

I studied how blind students at Perkins use the Natural Science collection to learn about natural world.   Here, I grasped the importance of feeling objects of all sizes.

INNOVATION: This shark became the inspiration for engaging with the huge Wolf Tree at the end of the trail.

ALT TEXT  A bearded man with a lanyard speaks to me as I feel a full-size model of a great white shark.  There are shelves with other animals and nature models behind him.  

 

  

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Mr. Hartigan worked with me to get a solid understanding of how braille is translated and produced, and the importance of having braille reviewed before it is 'published for blind readers on the trail.  

ALT TEXT  I stand looking at Mr. Hartigan who is explaining an exhibit to me.  The exhibit is full of photos and text and it has a title "Library and Howe Press."

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Back at home,  my first experiment was the production of braille using the set-and-tap method.  This produced passable results that were legible but not ideal.

ALT TEXT  A small peice of wood is shown with a braille printout attached to it.  Tweezers pull the paper away from the wood. 

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INNOVATION: I improved the production method by creating a lockable tweezer setup.  This helped the setting process and the braille become much more uniform and legible.

ALT TEXT Tweezers hold a nail on the piece of wood next to a hammer.

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I crafted and hand-sanded the marker buoys at home.

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INNOVATION:  I worked with Camelot Industries in Stoughton to inscribe the marker bouys using digital files and a laser inscription process.    

ALT TEXT   Three hand-sized shapes, prisms, cylinders and boxes, and they are inscribed with regular text. 

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INNOVATION: Camelot Industries normally only inscribes trophies, but they were interested in my project and willing to try something new by inscribing on curved softwood.   The process took some trial and error and a lot of ruined buoys but we arrived with a perfect finished product.  

ALT TEXT   I stand wearing a blue hoodie and holding a wood cylinder next to a man holding a wood prism.   We are both are smiling and looking into the camera

The first design was tweaked several times to balance conservation requirements, good ergonomics, and to strike a balance between how the scientists wanted the text to read and the space limitations once the braille was translated.

Each station required at least 4 revisions with the SSNSC scientists and that National Printing House for the Blind to strike this balance.  

ALT TEXT   An open notebook shows a hand drawn sketch of the profile of a person in front of a post with his hand on the post.   There are handwritten notes and measurements on the  drawing, drawn in pencil.  

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The trail sits on wetland setback areas so being sustainable was an important goal.  One of the ways that the project is "green" is by using 100 percent reused rope. 

 

INNOVATION I used tools that are usually used for cleaning marine lines to make sure that the rope was refreshed but that it would also not be compromised by cleaning process.  

ALT TEXT  Thick white rope is shown in a coil shape on pavement in the sun.  

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A local construction company (Gledhill Construction) got interested in the project and trained me on the tools required to construct the stations.

ALT TEXT  A I use a peice of machinery to drill a hole in a large piece of wood.  A man in a tshirt and shorts looks at the drill making the hole.  

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I explained the need to make the joinery exact and the team helped me figure out how to unite very precise braille plates to very large timbers in a way that would look and feel right.

INNOVATION:  I tweaked the standard inlaid design so that the stations could be built on budget and also so the feeling was simpler, leading the user to focus on the environment more. 

ALT TEXT  I hold a metal braille plate onto a large wood post while two men look on.  

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Getting the holes right for the stations to receive rope

INNOVATION:  Using long lengths of rope allowed the SSNSC to change the ropes over time.  

ALT TEXT  I hold a hand drill in a sunny space, while a man in a tshirt watches my work.  There are wood shavings on the wood that I am drilling. 

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I had to devise a way to make end clamps to hold the bouys in place and keep the rope taut.

INNOVATION I found a pipe clamping system at Lowe's that allowed a simple crimp that can was easy to install.  Lowes got interested in the project and gave us a demo model of the special clamp that was needed.

ALT TEXT  A clean peice of rope is attached to a wood cylinder with metal hardware

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Finishing the stations was important was they needed to be completely splinter free.  

ALT TEXT  I am using a tool with an attached hose on a large peice of wood

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I wrote the text for the stations myself and had it edited several times by the SSNSC scientists.  

I learned that digital translating programs are inferior to human braille translation. The National Printing House for the Blind in Kentucky got interested in the project and helped me with the translation of the text for free.  An engraver on "Etsy" produced the visual text plates and helped with the graphics I wanted.  

Uniting the science of the text in a way that allows for the braille to fit on the plates was the biggest challenge of the project but after several go-arounds we got it right

A local saw mill (Marshfield Lumber) got interested in the project and donated huge milled timbers.  A chain saw was needed to get the angles that I needed for the braille and text plates. 

ALT TEXT  I use a tape measure on a large peice of wood.  I am standing in a workshop with many tools and wood in the background.   A man uses a chainsaw to cut a large peice of wood to my right.

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Getting the ergonomics right was important to make sure that blind users of most heights could read the braille comfortably.

INNOVATION:  We changed the angle of the plates so that more braille text could be used.   This change of geometry satisfied the scientist at the SSNSC. 

ALT TEXT  I use a measuring tape on a large peice of finished wood

Getting the plates to align perfectly was they key to making my idea for a uniform plate work.  It involved geometry and trial and error.

ALT TEXT  I use sandpaper to finish two large posts that have been mounted with metal braille and text plates.  The sun illuminates the new metal plates.

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I started out using a 3D printer to make reliefs for the vernal pool and Tupelo stations.  But then Perkins users told us that more realistic models would tell the story better.

INNOVATION  A local artist, Andrea Williams, became interested in the project and helped me create durable reliefs of the diagrams.  They were fired out of PMC clay which turns to bronze when it is fired. 

 

ALT TEXT Clay imprints of tadpole eggs and the life cycle of a frog  

FInding the right adhesive to adhere the aluminum braille plates and the the stainless steel text plates involved a lot of trail and error.

ALT TEXT  I hold several clamps that are holding metal plates together to a wood base.  I am standing in a kitchen with a sink behind me.  

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The final stations show the relationship of the plates to the station, showing my refinement to a full plate.

The full plate proved to be a great improvement when the stations were disinfected in preparation for visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

ALT TEXT Braille plates and text are shown on sloped surfaces.   The metal is shiny and new.  

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Dr. Tricia DiGuilo reviewed all of the text panels and advocated for the most educational information possible to be included at each station.  My job was to go back and forth with the braille translators and strike a balance between complete content and text that would work with the ergonomics of the stations. 

ALT TEXT I stand with two younger boys and an adult in front of a truck.  A braille panel is leaned against the truck.  

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I worked with the Forester at the the SSNSC to get the narrative and location of the markers finalized and to get the positions perfect.

ALT TEXT I stand in a forest in the autumn when the leaves are changing.  A man in a hat is reading a guidebook next to me as I look into the trees.

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Installing the braille and text plaques at the the vernal pool.

ALT TEXT  A metal panel describing The Vernal Pool is wrapped with bright plastic tape imprinted with the word CAUTION.  

Approximately 23 volunteers and scouts worked in shifts to get the trail and markers installed.  It took one month. 

ALT TEXT  Two boys and I stand with furled rope on the ground, next to posts that have holes drilled in them

The trail was installed under the watchful eye of the SSNSC Forester who ensured that our work had zero impact on the historically protected stone walls, that any chemicals or fill that we used were environmentally neutral and did not affect the wetlands. 

ALT TEXT A man gives direction to four boys who are listening intently.  They are standing in front of a wooded trail with forest in the background. 

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Installing the markers on existing foundation bases allowed us to have minimal impact on the wetlands. 

ALT TEXT  I am holding a guidepost in place , wearing protective gloves.  An assistant uses a drill to make a hole in the guidepost.  We are standing in a wooded setting.  

Anchoring the posts into post bases turned out to be harded than just starting new.  This was important because of the trail's proximity to wetlands, we did not want to trigger conservation permits or any lumber that is treated with toxic chemicals.

ALT TEXT  I am using a metal wrench to attach a bolt to secure one of the guidepost.  A woman wearing a kitted hat and jacket holds the guidepost in place and looks on.  There is a rough stone wall to the left. 

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Dr DiGuilio reviewed all of my text panels and there was lots of back-and-forth the unite the natural science to the kind of language that lent itself to braille. 

INNOVATION The text was edited several times to ensure that the wording was brief enough to fit on the ergonomic plate once the braille itself was translated. 

ALT TEXT I stand looking into the camera, with a woman in short hair to my right and a man with a sweatshirt and jeans to my left. 

The crimping idea for the marker buoys allows the rope to be cleaned and changed in the future

ALT TEXT  I lean over a cylinder that is threaded with rope.  There is a post and rope tightly drawn through the post.  

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The trail head was the first post to be installed and was reviewed as a prototype by the science educators.  They approved the placement, ergonomics, and placement of the marker buoys, which I call the "legend".

ALT TEXT A wood post with an angled top and metail plates holds up a tight rope which leads to other posts in the background.  Cylinder, Prism and box shapes are shown along the rope. 

The marker buoys with the crimped clamps to keep them in place.

ALT TEXT  Wood Prism, Cylinder and box shapes are shown strung along a rope.  They have text and brailled on them.

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The trail head, with braille on the back face and text of the front as well as bout markers, introduces you to the trail and how to use it. 

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The Historic Stone walls station invites the hiker to explore the stone walls and imagine the forest as open farmland in Colonial times.  Warned of rougher terrain, this is one of the spots of the trail that lends a sense of adventure as the feeling of the ground changes.

Historic New England protects the walls and we literally did not touch them as the trail was installed.

ALT TEXT  A guiderope with a prism leads to a guidepost with braille and text.  The rope takes a corner and curves into the forest.

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The sun hits the back of the Tupelo Tree station, showing the ergonomic braille.

ALT TEXT A beam of sunlight hits metal braille on the top of a guidepost.

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The historic stone walls with the Wolf Tree station beyond

ALT TEXT Two guideposts form a curving shape for rope in the forest

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A closeup of the Historic Stone walls station shows the ergonomic relationship of the braille to the text

ALT TEXT Two sloping metal panels are shown in a wooded setting 

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The back of the Wolf Tree station shows the braille plates on a simple surface.

INNOVATION  The continuous surface offered a simpler reading area, it is easier to disinfect for COVID and and allows for all the text that the SSNSC scientists wanted to include

ALT TEXT  A metal braille panel on wood post

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The Wolf Tree and Historic Stone Walls stations 

ALT TEXT Metal panels and guideposts are strung along trees and a stone wall  

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The Wolf Tree station is the most tactile of all the stations and it is the one that sighted hikers enjoy most.  Putting your hands on the immense tree is most people's favorite part of the trail 

ALT TEXT A guidepost and rope leads to an enormous tree trunk.  The rope is guided along the tree trunk and continues along the trail 

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One final victory lap with my eyes closed!

My takeaway was a that the trail gave you an immersive lession in botany, the cycle of life, the wonder of trees and our place in history, through touch, sounds, and smells.

The trail is installed and ready for adventure.  Next stop, building the app and publicizing the trail. 

ALT TEXT I am walking toward the camera gripping a cylinder on the guiderope.  I am smiling and looking pleased.  

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A closeup of the last station showing the relationship of standard text and braille.

ALT TEXT A guidepost showing angled metal text and braille panel together

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BLIND HIKERS HIT THE TRAIL!

Taken from Instagram, this young blind hiker used the station to create a story out of his adventure. 

This is my personal favorite picture of the whole project.

ALT TEXT  There is snow on the ground.  A smiling young boy in a snowsuit grips one of the cylinder bouys.  In a second picture a wonman with curly hair helps him to inspect a prism shape. 

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2020:  MAKING THE TRAIL BETTER WITH TECHNOLOGY

I had the privilege of meeting with Ms. Kim Charles and Mr. Jerry Berrier who are thought leaders at the Perkins School.  They helped me map a way forward for creating an APP that can be used alongside the Tupelo Trail.  We are also going to create recorded narrative that will be submitted to UNiD, the national database of recorded guiding that is used by the National Park Service.

ALT TEXT  I am sitting at a table discussing strategy with a woman and a man wearing sunglasses.