Creating Tactile Graphic Machine Images with Word: Cycle Chart

"Work smart not harder!" That has to be my motto after working from home during the pandemic. One classic tool that many TVIs are taking advantage of - now more than ever - is the tactile graphics machine, such as the PIAF or Swell Machine. Not only do these tactile graphic machines create quality, sustainable and shareable materials, TVIs can quickly create images using simple software tools such as Microsoft Word. This post will focus on how to quickly create tactile images - with braille - using a Microsoft Word and a tactile graphics machine.

Example: Cycle Chart

The Engineering Design Process is a series of steps that engineers follow to come up with a solution to a problem. Often, the solution involves designing a product that meets certain criteria and/or accomplishes a certain task. For younger students, this revolving 5-step process is often depicted as a cycle diagram or cycle chart.

Engineering Design Process 5-step Cycle Chart. Each step is in a different colored circle with an arrow pointing to the next step.

This cycle chart can quickly be recreated, shared and saved for future use as a digital file using Microsoft Word. Here are the steps:

If you do not already have simulated braille font:

  • Download the free Braille Swell Paper font from the Texas School for the Blind website. It will download to your computer's download's folder.
  • Open on your downloads folder and open the Swell-Braille.ttf
  • Click on "install font"

Once you have downloaded the font, it will appear as a font option in Microsoft Word and will be available unless you remove it.

  • Open a new Microsoft Word document.
  • Type the name of the cycle chart two times, "Engineering Design Process"
  • To convert the second title to sim braille, highlight the second Engineering Design Process
    • Open the font options and select Swell Braille. (Print words automatically become Grade 1 braille)
  • Press Return two times to create space between the braille and the cycle chart.
  • Add the cycle chart template; in the Word toolbar at the top of the screen, select Insert > Smart Art > Cycle (I chose the 5-arrow and text cycle diagram)
    • The 5-step cycle template is inserted in the Word document.

screenshot of Microsoft Word with Insert > Smart Art > Cycle > 5 arrow image highlighted.

  • Select the first text box and type, "Define the Problem". 
  • Convert the text to sim braille; Highlight the text.
    • Open the font options and select Swell Braille.
  • Repeat for the remaining 4 text boxes.

Screenshot of Word document with text in cycle chart highlighted and font menu open to select Swell Braille font.

Additional Diagram Templates

Microsoft Word has additional Smart Art templates that can be inserted, which are organized into these categories:

  • Lists
  • Process
  • Cycle
  • Hierarchy
  • Relationships
  • Matrix
  • Pyramid
  • Pictures

Note: If you have created a cycle chart and want to see the information in another format, place your cursor on the original chart. Select another Image under Smart Art (can be from another category) and insert the new diagram. The text will automatically be inserted into the new diagram and the diagram will automatically have the same number of pieces (in this case 5).

Engineering Design Process Cycle Chart for Tactile Graphics Machine