Shortly before my second year of college, I received a few orientation and mobility lessons for learning how to navigate with low vision and a blindness cane. These lessons were helpful for learning general travel skills, but I noticed they didn’t get into specifics about navigating college campuses or using university resources available for students with vision loss. One lesson that would have been really helpful is how to configure GPS applications on my smartphone for getting directions on campus, so I’ve created the College O&M series to share my most-used tips and strategies for learning about this topic and others. Here are my tips for using GPS apps on college campuses and navigating campus with technology.
Almost every smartphone comes with a built-in GPS application that can provide directions for walking, driving, or using public transportation to get somewhere. While these applications are not specifically designed for blind/low vision users, there are still multiple features and accessibility tools that can help tremendously with navigating unfamiliar environments, and being able to use these applications are a core part of learning orientation and mobility skills. Since I have an Android phone, I use the Google Maps app the most frequently, though many of these features are also available in Apple Maps.
It’s worth noting that this post covers navigating outdoor environments and buildings. To learn more about using tools for navigating indoor environments with vision loss, check out the posts linked below.
When I first started living on campus, I added about 15 different campus addresses to my phone and added labels to them within the GPS application. This made it easier for me to search for locations as well as ask for directions using the dictation feature. Since some buildings are not labeled correctly on my college campus within GPS applications, this allows me to add my own labels manually.
To add a label to an address on Google Maps:
With Apple Maps, users can add an address to their favorites for easy access either. To add a location to favorites:
Another option with Apple Maps is to save addresses to a Guide, which stores a list of various addresses. To create a guide:
Google Maps has an option to enable detailed walking instructions that provide additional navigational information, like alerting to busy streets or providing more precise time estimates for getting from one location to another. This feature is designed for users with vision loss in mind, though sighted users may also benefit from the detailed instructions.
To enable detailed walking instructions in Google Maps:
Both Google Maps and Apple Maps provide users with the option to get directions from one place to another using public transit and can display updates about the location of a bus/subway, as well as how much time it will take to arrive to the next stop. For routes that require a transfer, there are also directions for how to get to the next transfer location.
It’s worth noting that this feature does not support college/university bus systems as these are not generally open to the public- so I couldn’t get information about the college shuttle to the local mall using either of these apps. Instead, I downloaded the transportation app provided by my college to get more information on those routes.
When one of my friends got lost on campus and was having trouble telling me where they were, I suggested they send me their location over text so that I could meet up with them. Using the location they sent, I was able to get directions and go find them so we could walk to get food together.
To send location data with an Android device:
To send location data with an iOS device:
Location data can also be shared with other third-party messaging applications, including WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
When I was learning different routes to walk to buildings on campus, the timeline feature in Google Maps allowed me to view a location history so I could see how I got from one place to another, as well as review places I have been. This has also come in handy when trying to remember the name of a restaurant I went to, or for tracking how far I’ve walked on a given day.
How to view location history/timeline on Google Maps:
The location history/timeline feature on Apple Maps does not track routes or other information like the Google Maps feature does, so if this feature is of particular interest, I recommend downloading the Google Maps app for iOS.
When I am on the bus or using a ridesharing service, it helps to track where I am going on a GPS application in real time so that I don’t miss a stop or so that I can tell the driver to drop me off in another area if needed. Since bus stops are not announced out loud on the city bus, this also helps me figure out when I am close to my stop.
To track bus routes/ridesharing routes, I keep a GPS application with either public transit directions or driving directions enabled so I can follow along. Both Apple Maps and Google Maps have the ability to alert users when they are getting close to their stop on public transportation as well.
By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com
Updated July 2023; original post published January 2017
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