A new GPS app is enabling people with visual impairments to use satellite technology to navigate their way around the world.
The revolutionary app includes cross-streets, particular points of interest and specific information about the surroundings, and there are more developments planned.
The Guide Dogs organisation is conducting training sessions for people like Nicole Holmes, who has been blind since birth.
“The technology won’t replace somebody’s vision, obviously,” Ms Holmes said.
“But it is an add-on to the other orientation mobility skills that they might have, to sort of colour in their journey: giving them information on where they are, what’s around them in terms of shops, transport facilities.
“And just really that confirmation of: ‘I’m travelling to my destination and I’m actually on the right track’.”
The GPS app has been available for a few months in Australia, but Ms Holmes has just put it to the ultimate test: travelling solo around London.
“Even though I could have gained this information from a very helpful passer-by, it was liberating to know that I could get myself to London and navigate the tube and get from A to B,” she said.
While many of us use GPS on our smart phones, the lack of anything tactile on the touch-screen can be problematic for people who are blind.
But the app combines voice commands with physical actions — like shaking the phone — to make it work.
App won’t replace guide dogs
Kelly Prentice is conducting the training in New South Wales, and is quick to point out that this does not signal the end of guide dogs.
“We’re talking about more having an idea of the wider mapping in your head, or the wider information around you. So it’s gathering information,” she said.
“But the dog or a long cane or anything: they’re your tools to help you through the environment.”
It might be possible with modifications to use the app to navigate indoors.
Ms Holmes works for Guide Dogs in NSW and the ACT as an access and technology officer.
She is busy trialling other technology, like Bluetooth.
“While somebody might be able to navigate from one address to another, once the GPS tells them that they get to that address: well, then what do they do?” she said.
“That’s a bit of a gap at the moment.
“So you can program the Bluetooth beacons with information and then when a person comes within a range of about 10 metres, the Bluetooth beacon will transmit that information to their smart phone.”
She hopes that will make it even easier to get around.
The app is available on iOS under the name Guide Dogs NSW/ACT.