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Wayfinding Technology for Visually-Impaired People

For people who are blind or visually-impaired, wayfinding in built environments presents challenges. More and more, however, wayfinding technology for visually-impaired people is being developed that goes above and beyond simply modifying existing solutions. Rather, the new assistive technologies are based on the concept of asking what visually-impaired people need in order to facilitate wayfinding and then developing solutions that serve those needs.

Sonic Technology

Sonic technology can be incorporated into devices that blind or visually-impaired people either hold in their hands or wear on their heads. Microcomputers coordinate a pulse-echo system for these devices. Transmitters send out sonic energy along the desired path, and this energy bounces off objects on the path. The resulting echoes are detected by receivers and processed by a microcomputer on the device to deliver auditory information to the user through headphones.

Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) Tags

Another way to help blind or visually-impaired people navigate built environments is through the use of radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags. These tags can be placed at strategic points in a facility, and blind or visually-impaired people would use hand held receivers to scan the tags and receive auditory messages about their current location relative to the spatial dimensions of the facility. Since more and more people are using smartphones, apps could be developed to serve the same functions as hand held receivers.

Internet Technology

For visually-impaired people, internet technology can be useful for wayfinding purposes. This technology allows the blind or visually-impaired to access directional information from a facility’s website or by using a cell phone. Wayfinding assistance through such means can be made available in large print and via voice applications. This information would instruct blind or visually-impaired people which routes to take in order to reach specific areas in a facility, or it would offer virtual tours to inspire comfort and confidence in a new environment.

Sensory Substitution

Another promising wayfinding technology for visually-impaired people is sensory substitution: sounds are substituted for images. Cameras scan a built environment and then convert images into sounds that help blind or visually-impaired people safely navigate the facility. For example, pitch can cue a change in elevation while volume can cue a change in illumination. In this way, blind or visually-impaired people learn to use sound in order to better “see” their environment.

Architectural Solutions

Wayfinding technology can also include architectural solutions in built environments such as textured paths. By feeling changes in texture underneath their feet, blind or visually-impaired people can utilize these paths to find their way to destinations in a given facility. Textured paths can be created using a combination of ridges and plateaus. Ridges could provide directional cues, while plateaus – a temporary absence of ridges – could help with orientation. In the digital age, there are all kinds of promising possibilities when it comes to developing wayfinding technology for visually-impaired people. Technology is becoming increasingly interactive, and it’s that interactivity that’s most needed to assist blind or visually-impaired people in safely navigating built environments. No doubt there’ll continue to be more and more intriguing, high-tech solutions developed to serve the needs of the visually-impaired.

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