I recently attended the “High Tech O&M” professional development conference at Perkins School for the Blind. The conference provided an extensive overview of Blindsquare, an accessible GPS-app available for the iPhone and iPad. As a 5th year Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist, I continue to find it somewhat intimidating to learn all of the new technology that is out there. This conference was just what I needed to gain knowledge and confidence in the O&M Tech-World.
Blindsquare is an app available for purchase in the Apple Store. With a price tag of $39.99, I really wanted to try the app out and learn as much as I could about it before I recommended it to students. I was more than impressed with the capabilities of the app as well as the user functionality. Despite my reservations, I want everyone to know that it was actually really EASY to learn the basics of Blindsquare!
As a brief overview, Blindsquare is an accessible indoor/outdoor GPS-app developed for the blind and visually impaired. Its key features include the ability to announce points of interest, street intersections and the ability to save previously located places. Blindsquare can provide information about your current location, your surroundings and venues nearby. It can also connect to a third party navigational app, like Apple or Google Maps in order to give turn by turn directions to a specific address. You can tailor the settings in Blindsquare in order to receive as much or little information as you would like. As a “newbie” user, I compiled a list of helpful tips for using the App, as well as a quick “How To” video showing a student who has just learned how to save a location with the App.
HELPFUL TIPS FOR THE BEGINNER
Change the Voice Synthesizer
Since Blindsquare runs in conjunction with Voiceover, it is helpful to choose a voice that is easy to decipher from Apple’s Voiceover. Here’s how to change the Voice Synthesizer in Blindsquare:
- At the toolbar on the top of the screen, there is an icon that looks like a gear. With Voiceover on, this icon is labeled “other”. Select this icon.
- Next, choose settings
- Select Voice and Language and choose English (or your preferred language) and choose from 35 different English speaking voices and dialects.
Change the Speech Rate
Choose a speaking rate that you are comfortable with:
- While you are in the settings Menu, select speech rate. If using Voiceover, swipe up to speed up the speaking rate or swipe down to slow it down. Or, just adjust the value by pressing one finger on the adjustable toggle – drag right to speed up or left to slow down the speech rate.
Explore Points of Interest around You
On the home screen of Blindsquare, points of interest are divided by category including Food, Shopping, Outdoors & Recreation, Arts & Entertainment and many others. Let’s say you’re in an unfamiliar city and would like to find a bite to eat. You can search what’s around you by selecting “Food” on the home screen.
Next, Blindsquare can populate a list of restaurants near you by distance, or you can search by type of food with a list of Subcategories.
Plan a Route
- You’ve searched for restaurants near you, and now you want to plan your trip to your destination. While still in the “Food” category, you select the restaurant want, which will bring you to a new page that provides the address of the restaurant.
- Choose “Plan a Route” from this screen, which will then connect you to the navigational app of your choice. I like to use Apple Maps, which happens to be the first option and listed simply as “Maps”. When you select Maps Blindsquare will send you directly to Apple Maps, and it has already inputted the address for you!
- All you have to do now is select “Start” and navigation begins. Now you are running both Blindsquare (which can give you environmental information such as your current GPS location, your direction of travel, announce street names and intersections and provide clock face directional cues). The GPS will provide turn by turn directions while BlindSquare indicates your direction of travel, distance from the destination as well as clock face directions. Blindsquare can bring you within less than 30 feet of your destination.
(Side Note: If you are meeting someone, you can easily share the address of this restaurant with a friend by selecting “share this place”, which gives you the option of texting or emailing the address to your chosen contact.)
A FEW TIPS AND REMINDERS WHEN USING BLINDSQUARE AND NAVIGATION
- While Blindsquare is incredibly accurate, it is essential to have basic O&M skills to fall back on. If your signal strength is low, your device may be less accurate. You’ll still need to use environmental cues and problem solving skills when using Blindsquare.
- The clock face directions are awesome, but it is important to remember that these signals are being read from the direction your device is pointing. So, if your body is facing 12:00, but your device is not pointing straight ahead, you’re going to get an inaccurate reading. It is helpful to hold your device against your body while walking to help it point straight in front of you.
- Use bone conducting head phones so that you are able to maintain environmental awareness and hear traffic as you are traveling.
- When you begin your route, you might want to turn Voiceover off. If you don’t, you are going to have 3 different voices running: Blindsquare, GPS, and Voiceover. They can talk over one another and it can cause confusion.
I met with a high school student who was kind enough to take some time to explore the Blindsquare app and its functions. This is Nick, an honors student who has excellent orientation and mobility skills, as well as a strong command of Voiceover. Within a matter of 30 minutes, he had learned how to customize his settings, search for a destination, share a place, plan a route and add a place. I asked Nick to demonstrate how to use Blindsquare to save a place. In this instance, he is saving the walkway to the town library, because there are multiple walkways and a driveway within close proximity. By saving the walkway to the main entrance of the library, Nick is providing himself with the cue to turn to find the main entrance. Check out the link below to watch him in action!