My favorite tool for O&M and independent navigation as a person with low vision isn’t my blindness cane- it’s my Android smartphone. While I love my blindness cane and all of the ways that it helps me to navigate my community on my own or with limited assistance, I use my phone for orientation and mobility a lot more often than I use my cane in a variety of contexts, and often use smartphone apps and tools in conjunction with my blindness cane as well. Here is a list of popular smartphone apps I’ve downloaded for orientation and mobility as a blindness cane user with low vision, inclusive of Android and iOS devices, including accessible GPS applications. Unless otherwise noted, each application is available on Android and iOS, though the exact features between operating systems may vary.
Google Maps offers several features for visually impaired users, including detailed walking directions, information on public transportation routes, and the ability to follow along with a route while on public transportation or when using ridesharing services. Another one of my favorite features for Google Maps is the ability to check businesses for popular times/peak capacity times so that I can plan trips accordingly and avoid crowds.
Loadstone GPS is a paid accessible GPS application that was designed by blind and low vision users for use around the world. Loadstone GPS does not use a data plan/wifi, but requires users to create a free Pointshare account to save points of interest. Once a user creates an account, they can download maps for their location from the Pointshare database. Loadstone GPS is only available for iOS and is the GPS/orientation and mobility app of choice for many of my friends who travel internationally or in remote areas.
Aira is a paid service that connects blind and low vision users with professional visual interpreters that serve as remote human guides, assisting people with tasks such as finding a classroom, choosing an item at the store, calling a rideshare service, or getting from one location to another by foot- Aira interpreters have access to the user’s location and can follow a map in real time. Aira services are available through a monthly plan, though Aira services are also available at no cost at select “Aira Access” locations, such as Target, Wegmans, and major events- a full up-to-date list of Aira Access partners is linked below. Aira is available in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.
WayMap is a free application that provides indoor and outdoor navigation information for navigating participating venues and cities with vision loss in North American and Europe. WayMap provides users with detailed instructions and information about how to use public transportation, directions to businesses and buildings, and also to navigate large indoor spaces such as conference venues and hospitals. Information provided in WayMap is text-based and accessible with assistive technology- WayMap does not use visual interpreters for providing directions.
Be My Eyes is a free application that connects blind and low vision users with volunteer/amateur visual interpreters that can help with visual tasks, including indoor navigation, identifying objects, and getting information about their surroundings. This can be helpful when navigating highly visual environments like a college dining hall. Be My Eyes visual interpreters do not have access to the user’s location or other mapping tools.
Lazarillo is a free accessible GPS application that provides audio guidance and announcements for locations and similar information when navigating, announcing information about surrounding areas such as streets, restaurants, and shopping areas. Users can save their favorite locations to the Lazarillo app and browse nearby locations, receiving turn-by-turn navigation instructions. Businesses and other organizations can partner with Lazarillo for indoor mapping so that users can use the Lazarillo app at participating locations. Another bonus is that Lazarillo also offers free virtual workshops for Orientation and Mobility specialists/COMS.
GoodMaps is a free application that provides turn-by-turn GPS navigation for outdoor spaces and select indoor spaces. Users can customize how often they receive notifications for directions and get information about their surroundings, as well as points of interest. The main GoodMaps feature I have used is Virtual Mode, which allows users to set a location and explore points of interest in the surrounding area, or get information on navigating indoor spaces when available.
While Google Assistant isn’t technically a GPS application, I still use it frequently for orientation and mobility so that I can control my phone with my voice, ask for directions or public transportation schedules, and also use the Google Lens app to read information on signs. I have an entire post about how I use Google Assistant while traveling linked below.
BlindSquare is a paid accessible GPS application for blind, low vision, and deafblind users that pairs with third party navigation apps like Apple Maps to provide enhanced directions including clock face directions and information on the remaining distance. BlindSquare can be controlled with voice commands and uses high quality Acapela Group voices to provide location information and directions, though users will need to purchase voice credits separately on the App Store. BlindSquare also offers FourSquare integration and can announce points of interest in the surrounding area, as well as save locations for later. BlindSquare is available for iOS only and requires a data plan.
What3Words is a free application that allows users to find, save, and share precise locations, and can be integrated with several GPS applications, as well as make it easier to remember addresses. While users currently cannot type What3Words names into Google Maps directly, address information can be accessed in the What3Words application and copy/pasted into the desired GPS application. I’ve used What3Words to provide address information over the phone since it reduces the likelihood that someone will copy the address wrong, and also used it when I had to call 911 and needed to provide precise location information.
By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com
Updated September 2023; original post published January 2019
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