Three researchers from Monash University carried out a study to see if 3D printed models offered more information than tactile graphics such as maps. There were some interesting findings that were presented in a conference paper. The abstract gives a good overview:
Abstract: Tactile maps are widely used in Orientation and Mobility (O&M) training for people with blindness and severe vision impairment. Commodity 3D printers now offer an alternative way to present accessible graphics, however it is unclear if 3D models offer advantages over tactile equivalents for 2D graphics such as maps. In a controlled study with 16 touch readers, we found that 3D models were preferred, enabled the use of more easily understood icons, facilitated better short term recall and allowed relative height of map elements to be more easily understood. Analysis of hand movements revealed the use of novel strategies for systematic scanning of the 3D model and gaining an overview of the map. Finally, we explored how 3D printed maps can be augmented with interactive audio labels, replacing less practical braille labels. Our findings suggest that 3D printed maps do indeed offer advantages for O&M training.
Paradoxically, the freely available PDF version is in two columns and in Times New Roman font – both aspects that are not recommended for people with low vision or for screen readers. The full title of the paper is, “Accessible Maps for the Blind: Comparing 3D Printed Models with Tactile Graphics”. You can see a related article that found 3D models helped everyone’s understanding.