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Accessible Assistive Technology Resources Bridges Blog Series: Orientation October

Useful Apps for Navigation: Google Maps and Blind Square

Techniques for Travel

When a person travels using their white cane, they have lots of techniques for learning a new environment and exploring their surroundings at their disposal.

Asking questions of passersby such as clarifying which block a destination is on, asking what intersection one is standing at, or inquiring which building is next to one’s current location can yield very helpful information about one’s environment.

Relying on other senses aside from sight can be very enlightening when discovering new aspects of one’s environment. A quiet thrum can indicate where the vending machines are, and the beeping sounds of cash registers can indicate where the checkout line at a store is located. Sometimes, finding the best coffee shop on campus is as simple as walking down the block, entering the place where the smell of delicious coffee is coming from, and ordering a coffee.

Individuals can also work with travel or O&M instructors on learning their new environment. Many times, this service is provided through the school district or DORS, and the Bridges Helpdesk can work with you on getting this service covered if needed.

Most cane users employ a combination of all of these methods, and also add in some additional tools in the form of apps on their smartphones. GPS apps are not perfect, and it is important to use other tools in your toolbox to get around while also using the apps to supplement your travel experience. Below, we will detail two useful apps for navigating and gathering information about one’s environment. There are others, and we encourage users to try them out and have fun!

BlindSquare

BlindSquare was developed from Foursquare and it has many features that can enhance location and destination identification. Users can enjoy many customizable features which include but are not limited to the following:

  • Shaking your phone while the app is open will give you your current address and speak information such as the closest intersection and popular cafes and other points of interest that are around you.
  • As you walk along the route and listen to the app’s directions, the app will periodically announce what direction you are headed in and along what street to help you maintain orientation. You will also hear the voice navigation announce what you are passing in real-time.
  • The app allows users to filter information that they want to hear. For example, if you only want to hear about nearby post offices, you can filter out all other mentions of other locations and points of interest.
  • Users can drop markers so that the app can use voice guidance to guide them back to their starting point after navigating to their destination.
  • Some users find it helpful to keep the app open when they are riding in a car or on public transportation because it will speak out the streets and points of interest one is passing. This can be a great tool when learning the layout of a new neighborhood or trying to contextualize what a bus line includes.

Blind Square is only available for iOS users in the App Store. The Blind Square event app is available at no cost, but Blind Square Event is only a demo version unless used at certain, limited events. The full version of Blind Square costs $39.99. Learn more about Blind Square or see it in action on Blind Square’s Help page.

Google Maps

This app was not specifically designed for blind and low vision users. In fact, this app has several modes and can be used if one is driving to a location, using public transportation, walking, or even bicycling.

The walking mode can allow you to preview the route that you will need to take to get to a specific location. You can also choose to start the route and Google’s Voice Navigation will speak directions to you as you progress on your travels.

Many users find Google Maps helpful because it can give information about which buses or trains to catch to get to a specific destination when using the app in the public transportation mode. The app also provides multiple public transportation route suggestions if available so you can evaluate which one will work best for you.

You can also use the app for giving driving directions to a driver or ensuring that that driver is heading to the requested destination. This app also has the ability to help you discover places around you and has the capability for you to call those places if needed by the push of the button in the app.

Google Maps is available at no cost and can be used with iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, Linux, and Chrome operating systems.

Contact Us

Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.