Touching the Stars: Designing Tactile Symbols for Space Flight and Beyond

Cooper Hewitt’s Give Me A Sign exhibition explores the history of graphic symbols as documented by industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss in his Symbol Sourcebook: An Authoritative Guide to International Graphic Symbols (1972). This program expands upon the symbol lexicon covered in the Symbol Sourcebook to include tactile symbols, used by people who are blind or have low vision, as well as people with other complex disabilities. Like their 2D counterparts, these symbols quickly convey important information, and they are often developed through collaborative and iterative design processes. 

AstroAccess, a project dedicated to promoting disability inclusion in human space exploration, collaboratively designed a tactile symbol system to be used by blind astronauts. Join Dr. Sheri Wells-Jensen, linguist and participant in AstroAccess, and Steve Landau, founder of Touch Graphics, in conversation with blind tech educator and activist Chancey Fleet to learn more about the design process for this project and for tactile symbol systems in general. 

After the panel discussion, stick around for a hands-on workshop where you will have the opportunity to design your own tactile symbols! 


Program Length: 120 minutes
Interactivity Level: Low to medium
Intended Audience: People curious about tactile symbols, design and accessibility, creative practice, universal symbol design, and design for people who are blind and low vision.

Museum admission is not included in the program ticket price.


  • Location: This program will take place in person in the Lecture Room at Cooper Hewitt (2 East 91st Street, New York, NY). The Lecture Room is on the ground floor of the museum and is fully wheelchair accessible. Read more about accessibility at Cooper Hewitt.   
  • What to Expect: The program will feature a panel conversation followed by an audience Q&A. After the Q&A, there will be a short break, followed by a hands-on workshop where participants can design their own tactile symbols using paper, stencils, and simple drawing tools. The panel and Q&A will be recorded for Cooper Hewitt’s YouTube channel. 
  • Accommodations: The program includes live CART captioning. For additional accommodations, such as ASL or ProTactile interpreting, please email or call 212-849-8384. Please make your accommodation request as far in advance as possible—preferably at least one week before the program date. 


Chancey Fleet is a blind tech educator and activist based in Brooklyn. She is the founding Assistive Technology Coordinator at the New York Public Library, where she runs a free peer-powered tech coaching service that connects library patrons with print-reading disabilities to 150 hours of one-to-one coaching each month; curates a rotating selection of workshops on tech topics with accessibility in mind; and runs the Dimensions Lab for free and open tactile graphics creation. Fleet is a 2017 Library Journal Mover and Shaker. 

Steve Landau first learned about how raised line diagrams are used by the blind as a substitute for visual graphics from working with Karen Luxton Gourgey of City University of New York in 1998. Soon after that, Landau founded Touch Graphics to develop new methods for printing tactile graphics. Today, Landau has assembled a group of skillful and energetic collaborators to create tactile signs, exhibits, maps, and classroom aids, which communicate spatial information through the sense of touch. 

Dr. Sheri Wells-Jensen is an associate professor of Linguistics at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. She served as the Library of Congress / NASA 2023 Baruch S. Blumberg Chair in Astrobiology. Her research focuses on disability representation in aerospace, tactile design for wayfinding in zero G, and cognition and language. 



Give Me a Sign: The Language of Symbols is made possible with generous support from the Marks Family Foundation Endowment Fund.