I recently attended Diane Brauner and Ed Summer’s High Tech O&M training through Perkins E-learning and was excited to learn some wonderfully helpful tools that assist with orientation. One of the tools that is getting a lot of attention and use among people with vision impairments is the Blind Square app. Among many valuable features of this app is its ability to allow one to create points of interest (POI). These points serve as markers for any point along a route, namely landmarks. The beauty of this feature is that one can create their own descriptive label for the POI allowing for as much detail or information as desired. After “playing with” this feature during the training, I got to thinking how useful this tool could be for some of the unique travel environments I encounter in my home state of Maine.
Some of the more challenging rural environments for V.I. in Maine are the family camps, summer camps, campgrounds, and island roads that one might have to navigate. The roads in these places are different from typical rural roads for several reasons: They tend to be much shorter distances than town roads, they typically have numerous branching pathways with irregular intersections, and because these are small, contained areas with few cars that move slowly they are almost always dirt roads, often very rough. They are also wonderful pathways for walking (unlike paved roads connecting towns where you take your life in your hands when walking). However, they can be tremendously challenging to navigate on foot with a vision impairment because usually they have very little low vision or non-visual clues and landmarks to help in monitoring one’s location.
I think these places would be served well by use of the Blind square app.
Photo: Map of children's summer camp
In fact, not long ago I had a client living on an island who discovered this for himself. While I worked with him on white cane skills and traditional orientation strategies, he struggled in frustration to navigate through an area of dirt roads with a plus shaped intersection. Despite his excellent mental map of the neighborhood, this area challenged him because of its very wide rounded corners, maddingly difficult to read shorelines, and lack of features that could act as landmarks. But he believed and held out hope that a GPS device he was waiting to purchase would be his saving grace. I was skeptical and tried to temper his enthusiasm. I did not feel that a GPS device would have any application in such a rural setting. After helping him meet his general O&M goals and putting him on hold for the winter months, I later found that he had been using the Victor Reader Trek to navigate that challenging intersection. I won’t go into the specifics of this particular device other than to say that it is an option for someone who is not a smart phone user, and that it has similar features to Blind Square in being able to track the route and set POIs at given points along a route.
Having the ability to “mark” points along these camp roads would allow one to recognize (generally) where roads intersect and to be able to label points along the route where decisions need to be made. One hang up that could happen in some of the more congested camp areas is that some pathway intersections can be close together. Given that the GPS won’t be exact with its distance (being off by potentially 15 ft or so), one can make use of the tracking feature. Set to either compass direction or clock face the rural traveler could track where their destination is in relation to their location and it would allow them to recognize if they set off down the wrong pathway. Also, a nice features of Blind Square is that one can use it simultaneously with a global map in order to have directions, while also tracking and labeling landmarks. But the map apps with their turn by turn directions mostly wouldn’t apply to these places I describe because the roads often don’t make it onto maps. The tracking and landmark creation are what would make the app most practical in these regions.
Photo: Map of a campground in Maine with numerous twisty, intersecting roads.
There are no discernible features to serve as landmarks for finding one’s campsite. One might potentially make a POI at the entrance of one’s site and then also put an object (such as camp chair) just off the road in that same locale. The POI could alert someone when they are close so they would know to begin looking for their physical landmark.
One thing someone would need to consider for such areas however is cellular service. Of course there are rural parts of the state where such service can be spotty or lacking, making any device dependent on tracking features useless. If someone is lacking service, but does in fact live in a network of camp roads on a global map, then they could take advantage of Google Maps Offline or Apple Maps Offline. These features enable users to download maps of specific areas when on wi-fi and then use these maps when cellular is not available (or to save your data plan). *Note: The specific map is physically loaded onto your iPhone; but, there is a time limit and the map has to be downloaded again. Here is an article about Google Maps Offline in the comment section at the bottom of the article is a link to the information about AppleMaps offline.
Where service is available, I would enthusiastically explore the Blind Square app as a tool for navigating Maine’s unique roads and pathways and I would recommend it for any other similarly unique environments anywhere.
Photo: Map of a region of Sebago lake. Green areas indicate state park and family camping. Areas beyond the green are private. These roads do appear on google maps and could be used for turn by turn directions in conjunction with Blind Square tracking.