Conference date and location: 24-26 October, 2011, Dundee, Scotland
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You’re Getting Warmer: Supporting Spatial Awareness and Independent Wayfinding for Visually Impaired Pedestrians

Rayoung Yang, Sangmi Park, Sonali Mishra, Zhenan Hong, Clint Newsom, Erik Hofer, Hyeon Joo and Mark Newman

Abstract

Much of the information designed to help people navigate the built environment is conveyed through visual channels, which means it is not accessible to the blind and visually impaired. Due to this limitation, visually impaired travelers often have difficulty navigating and discovering locations in unfamiliar environments, reducing their sense of independence with respect to traveling by foot. In this paper, we examine how mobile location-based computing systems can be used to increase visually impaired travelers’ sense of independence. A set of formative interviews with visually impaired individuals showed that increasing one’s general spatial awareness is the key to greater independence. This insight guided the design of Talking Points 3 (TP3), a mobile location-aware system for the visually impaired that seeks to increase the legibility of the environment for its users in order to facilitate navigating to desired locations, exploration, serendipitous discovery, and improvisation. We conducted studies with eight legally blind participants in three campus buildings in order to explore how and to what extent TP3 helps promote spatial awareness for its users. Results shed light on how TP3 helped users find destinations in unfamiliar environments, but also allowed them to serendipitously discover new points of interest, improvise solutions to problems encountered, develop personalized strategies for navigating, and, in general, provided them with a greater sense of independence.

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Photo by macieklew and used under creative commons