Navigation apps for blind people may have wider appeal

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NEW YORK (NYTIMES) – Almost all blind people have at least one history of loss or disorientation.

Despite the use of canes, guide dogs, help from strangers and popular navigation apps like Google Maps, getting lost remains a huge problem for many blind and visually impaired people, Clark said. Rachfal, director of advocacy and government affairs for the American Council of the Blind.

Just hearing an application’s instructions like “at 500 feet, turn right” is often not enough information to ensure independence and safety.

“We travel our familiar roads because we know the path is accessible and we know our familiar landmarks,” said Mr Rachfal.

That could change, however, with the release of new apps specifically designed for pedestrians and accessibility. Thanks to improvements in mapping technology and smartphone cameras, a number have emerged with features such as indoor navigation, detailed descriptions of the surroundings and more obstacle warnings.

“We are still in the early days. These technologies have emerged over the past 10 years,” said Mr Rachfal. “I think there is a lot of potential to provide better access to transport and information to people with disabilities and to the community at large.”

One example is MapInHood, which has only been released in Toronto. It was designed to help blind people, but may have appeal to the general public. The app provides personalized navigation that allows pedestrians to access information about potential obstacles, including traffic on the roadway, construction hazards, intersections with accessible curbs, bicycle parking and traffic. location of benches, food carts and water fountains.

It also offers navigation that avoids stairs, steep inclines or any obstacles – tools that help people with disabilities but can also benefit someone carrying a suitcase or pushing a stroller.

Another app, NaviLens, uses colorful QR codes with large boxes that can be scanned by a smartphone up to 12m or 20m, depending on the size of the QR code. The codes trigger your phone to provide information about the point of interest in front of you, and “ding” when you face the sign, while also letting you know how far away you are.

This can help blind people better locate bus stations or metro station entrances, while also allowing them to get accurate location information in situations where a GPS signal is unreliable, such as underground or in the towering urban jungles. Information is offered in up to 34 languages, making it a potential tool for travelers who may not speak the local language.

But for this app to be integrated into a daily commute, cities and organizations around the world would also have to install signs with QR codes along routes – a tall order.

Many of these apps are based on existing open source map data, such as OpenStreetMap, a free and editable world map created by thousands of volunteers.

Mr. Greg Stilson, head of global innovation at the American Printing House for the Blind, believes that in addition to being useful for people who are blind and visually impaired, the applications that eventually succeed will be those that offer other benefits. that accessibility – by helping hospitals to monitor equipment or assistance to warehouses in monitoring products, for example – and require very little additional infrastructure to set up.

As technology improves to recognize or guide people through obstacles and pathways, Mr Stilson said, these types of apps could eventually give way to some sort of stand-alone pedestrian navigation tool, a much like self-driving cars, but for sidewalks.


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