Map Sticks

Dr. Joe Gibson has worked for many years with adults who are deafblind and he is now the coordinator of the Deafblind International Outdoor Network. Based in Norway, he believes strongly in the benefits of outdoor activities for individuals with a combined vision and hearing loss, including those with multiple disabilities.  He recently presented his ideas at the Texas Deafblind Symposium in Austin, Texas, and we were struck by the strong parallels to Active Learning.

What is a Map Stick?

A map stick.
A map stick.

A Map Stick is a tactile indicator to explain the length of a journey and can be used to check how far along one might be at any point.  Much like a traditional map, it is a tool to guide people during a walk or other type of journey. It can help to support concepts of time and sequence, as well as anticipation of what one will find during a walk.  It encourages independence and communication, and can be a support to the development of Orientation and Mobility skills.

How is a Map Stick used?

A Map Stick is designed to provide information before, during, and at the end of a walk.  It has a consistent beginning, middle, and end.  For example, a carabiner can be used to indicate the beginning of a journey, raised string or knots can be attached to the center to signify the middle of the journey, and then a smooth polished stone can be at the end to indicate returning to home or school. The specific signifiers can be chosen based on the interests of the individual.  If there will be several stops along the way, multiple knots or strings can also be attached to signify multiple landmarks or activities during the journey.

The Map Stick can be explored prior to the journey to support discussion about what one can expect to encounter on the route and in what sequence this will happen.


Additional tactile symbols can be added to the stick to indicate what exactly will happen during a particular journey and these can change or be permanent.  For example, an individual may always stop at the mid-point to eat a snack or always stop at a particular tree before turning around.  The use of both the temporal signifiers (beginning, middle, end) and the specific tactile symbols can enable the individual to anticipate specific parts of a journey and to know when to expect completion.

Another variation would be to place a tactile indicator (such as a wide elastic or rubber band) on the stick and move it along the stick and one progresses through the journey.

Why is this useful?

Individuals who are deafblind or who have multiple disabilities may not be able to anticipate what will happen next and may become frustrated or upset if they want an activity to be finished and it’s not.  A Map Stick is a very concrete tool to enable an individual to know where they are in their journey.

Is a Map Stick the same as a Journey Stick?

A Map Stick is designed to let someone know how long a journey will be, as well as what will happen (receptive communication), whereas a Journey Stick is an expressive tool to tell about one’s experience.

Related Resources

For more information about the development and concept behind the map stick see Gibson, J. (2010). ”The Map Stick”, Horizons (50), 14-16.

For more ideas from Dr. Joe Gibson, see also

Map sticks