Sat Nav for the vision impaired

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2007 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

For people with vision impairments travelling around a strange part of a city is a real challenge:

  • The maps are too small to read.
  • The index is worse.
  • Street names on buildings are difficult to find and then impossible to read.

The boom in satellite navigation devices in the last few years offered the hope of a better solution but they were designed for use by drivers and not for the vision impaired market:

  • The input is normally an on-screen keyboard, without any voice output for menu navigation.
  • The device was not designed to be hand-held whilst in use, the size and shape was only dependent on its use in a car.
  • It was an extra device to lug around see How many hand-held devices does a blind person need.
  • The output is car oriented in that it will say drive 3 miles and turn left but not say anything about the roads in-between that have to be crossed.
  • The cost of any sat-nav that had been specially designed for the vision impaired market is high because the market is small.

Some of these problems were fixed when Wayfinder began to offer sat-nav through a mobile phone. This is a subscription service that downloads maps and direction when requested. It was aimed at the mobile user who needed directions when not in the car and also up to date information about points-of-interest in the locale.

Vision impaired users realised that they could add this service to their existing mobile phones and combine it with Nuances Talks or Zooms to create a high function sat-nav with the advantages that:

  • It is a single device.
  • The keyboard is familiar and usable.
  • All the menus and outputs can be magnified using Zooms or read out loud using Talks; again using familiar technology.

However, Wayfinder’s help-line began to get a lot of calls from this community because it still did not offer everything they needed.

Wayfinder and Nuance decide that they should work together to offer a better solution. Wayfinder surveyed the potential users, mostly users of Nuance TALKS & ZOOMS, to find out what was needed. The result is the recent announcement of Wayfinder Access. The main new features of this product are:

  • A ‘where am I’ facility, so that when you come out of the underground or get off a bus you can check that you are where you intended to be.
  • A ‘vicinity view’, that lists points-of-interest in the immediate locale (crossings, restaurants, museums, etc.). The size of the area can be varied so that the points-of-interest can be limited and prioritised according the users need.
  • ‘Intermediary crossing information’, identifying each of the roads that need to be crossed; important to the pedestrian but not to a driver.
  • Internal changes to ensure that Wayfinder works seamlessly with Nuance’s Zooms and Talks.

The product is aimed at the vision impaired community but as a by-product the enhancements made should be of interest to a wider audience. As I walk around London from one meeting to another I can see how all of these new functions could benefit me. Especially the ‘where am I’ and the ‘vicinity view’.

This is a great example of technologies that have been developed for the able-bodied community being combined and extended to support a specific group of disabled users. This is the only way to bring the cost down to an accessible level.