GPS: Getting Places Solo!

When it was launched in the 70’s for the US military to track fighter jets, who could have predicted that 4 decades later the same technology would be helping so many people get from A to B on a daily basis. Who would also have believed that such a system could be used by blind and partially sighted people as a means of ‘Getting Places Solo’?
Whilst the struggle is still on to enlighten the general public that vision loss does not make the individual wholly incapable, a technical revolution is taking place that has the power to get more blind people out on our streets-and they will even know where they’re going!

Today’s smartphones are the ultimate navigation and travel aid- and the best bit-once you’ve bought your phone many of the features you need to get around solo are free.
So where to start…whether you prefer Apples IOS or Googles Android operating systems it’s likely your smartphone will come with an inbuilt sat nav app such as Apple Maps or Google Maps. These are a really good place to start testing out GPS. The maps allow you to find a particular destination on foot or using public transport, giving audible live directions and an estimated arrival time.

On a plus the map apps will get you to within feet of your destination, whether you have prior knowledge of the area or not. Listen to your device through headphones and it has the double advantage of freeing up your hands for your guide dog/cane, your phone is more secure in your pocket/bag and Joe Public will be unaware you’re being digitally guided.
The negatives-well you may get to the building you need but the apps won’t as yet tell you where the door is and whilst the app will guide you from one place to another for pedestrians it does not incorporate information on crossing points….and obviously your phone is consuming Wi-Fi data and battery. But if you decide to venture out regularly using GPS you can overcome the latter issues by shopping round for a good data phone package and the purchase of battery pack for recharging your phone that can cost as little as £5.

And once you’ve mastered the basics of Maps there are so many free apps available and more importantly accessible.

Bus Checker
Live bus times and bus stop locations & information. And gives you the ability to amaze strangers with your seemingly secret knowledge of service delays.

Move It
Pretty much you’re complete travel companion, maps and audio navigation, train and bus travel information, stops, platforms and arrival/departure times, stop alerts and even the ability to book an Uber through the app.

Lazerillo
Again another all-round travel companion. Very similar in many ways to Move It, so try both and see which you prefer.

Soundscape
Stop alerts and bookmarking for regular stops. Real time location audio, speaks out street names, intersections and local businesses or public places.

This is by no means the complete list, just a few which appear to be popular amongst my visually impaired peers. And the positives of free apps is you can try all and see which suit you best. Visually impaired people have always had the capability to travel independently but now we also have the tools to do it very successfully with practise.
And ready for the shameless promo….
For further help and support on the use of GPS apps contact/visit KVIN.

Sam Heaton, KVIN Volunteer