Cartography for the blind could easily make for a dull radio piece - the "let's call this expert, and then let's call that expert" brand of journalism often referred to as "acts and tracks." Few reporters break this mold, mostly because news directors like it and also because it takes a lot of work and imagination to find a different way to tell a simple story.
KQED's Amy Standen has done it. She takes us on a tactile neurological quest for braille maps. Thought they already existed? So did I.
First we slosh along next Amy and neuroscientist Alex Wade on a particularly rainy San Francisco day. Alex points out all the obstacles a blind person might run into on this busy street. As he ushers us around potted plants and rain filled gutters, we get a totally pain-free neuroscience lesson. Thanks - now I know what my parietal cortex does.
Next we're off to meet Josh Miele, a blind scientist who has created a braille map that he and his co-worker can't get enough of. They giggle and coo over this piece of bumpy white paper like it's a brand new iPhone. It's hard to believe braille maps haven't existed until now. Apparently, scientists once thought that the sightless couldn't use their parietal cortexes to make a mental map because they couldn't "visualize" large spaces or far distances. Josh Miele's invention proves they can.
Amy Standen takes risks in this piece that would make some stodgy journalism school professors cringe. She starts off with the word "I" and sticks with the first person throughout the piece. She trades in scientific jargon for snappy writing and fun analogies to keep the science interesting. Most importantly, she took the expert out of the booth and put him in the real world where real blind people are now enjoying beautiful maps made just for them.