Helping the Visually Impaired Navigate City Streets

Posted on Oct 19, 2008

A group of students from the University of Michigan have developed a mobile computing platform that helps people with visual impairments navigate urban areas. Using Bluetooth technology, the system provides contextual hints to read tags applied to select city landmarks.

The system is called Talking Points, which is funded by a GROCS (GRant Opportunities for Collaborative Spaces) award for the university’s Digital Media Commons program. The prototype interfaces audio or visual data with a storage tank of attributes applied to landmarks and other notable places of interest or distinction. The database is maintained by the Talking Points community, members of whom have the ability to add, delete or modify records as needed.

Talking Points is an excellent example of Universal Design principles being applied to both geographic and social contexts. The system not only provides increased wayfaring capabilities to the blind; pedestrians attempting to navigate an unfamiliar city may also find it of value:

The system’s mobile computers, about the size of paperback books, read Bluetooth tags — on city landmarks and other points of interest — and convey information visually or aloud. “If it caught on, this would be an effective way to tag the whole world,” Jason Stewart, a master’s student at Ann Arbor, said in a written statement. “Anyone with a reader could use it to find out more information about where they are.”

You can follow updates and articles about Talking Points through the group’s website.