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Intro to BlindSquare: iOS Navigation App

Basic introduction to the BlindSquare iOS navigation app.


Learning how to travel independently has always been a challenge for blind and partially sighted people. Although GPS smartphone apps cannot compensate for poor orientation and mobility skills, they can dramatically increase confidence and independence when out and about. There are a number of mainstream GPS apps that are accessible with VoiceOver on iOS for example Apple Maps, preinstalled on every iPhone, and Google Maps, which can be downloaded free of charge from the App Store. These apps provide spoken turn-by-turn directions, but they may not announce additional information beneficial to blind and partially sighted travelers. Some apps, however, have specifically been designed for this user group. These are not only VoiceOver accessible, but they also describe the environment. BlindSquare is one of them. 


Although BlindSquare has a large set of features, new users can get started very quickly. When they launch the app for the first time, it will request access to the iPhone’s location services. Once the user has agreed, they are ready to take a first walk. While walking, BlindSquare will automatically announce points of interest such as shops or restaurants, for example “coffee shop 90 feet at 12 o’clock.” It will also inform about upcoming intersections, naming all of the streets the intersection consists of. On a shake of the device, it will say the current address. To learn more about the vicinity, the user may activate the Look Around feature in the Tools menu. Now BlindSquare will read the intersections, saved points, and public points of interest located in the direction the phone is pointing in. Turning or pointing the phone in different directions allows building a mental map of the area.


BlindSquare retrieves information about public points of interest from Foursquare, a location-based social network. However, users can also save their own points in BlindSquare. These can be any landmark important to the user: the entrance of a shop, the fork of a path in the woods, or a zebra crossing, just to give some examples. The coordinates and the name of the points are stored in iCloud;  BlindSquare will always alert the user when they approach one of the saved locations. The landmarks saved can be viewed under My Places found on the main screen of the app.


Screenshot of My Places screen with categories such as Shared Places, Arts and Entertainment, etc.The largest part of the main screen is taken up by a list of categories, for example Food, Shops & Services, or Travel & Transport. Tapping one of them will list all of the places falling into this category. Travel & Transport, for instants, will bring up a list of public transit stops and hotels in the vicinity. Tapping one of the listed items will open a screen showing all of the available information about the venue. Depending on how much information has been entered on Foursquare, the screen may list the street address, phone number, website, and, if it is a restaurant, even the menu. Furthermore, there are buttons to view the location on a talking map, to start turn-by-turn navigation through a third-party app, such as Google Maps or Apple Maps, and to simulate the location.


Simulating a location is one of the most useful BlindSquare features.

In Simulation Mode, BlindSquare will behave as if the user really were at the simulated location. Using this feature in conjunction with Look Around, it is possible to be an armchair traveler and explore for example the venues located near the hotel you have booked for your next vacation.


As it can be difficult to operate a touchscreen device while walking, BlindSquare offers a feature setting it apart from other GPS apps that have been designed for blind and partially sighted users. Through the Audio Menu and a supported headset or Bluetooth speaker, many BlindSquare features can be accessed using the Play, Stop, Next Track, and Previous Track buttons of the headset or speaker.


It is recommended to obtain either Aftershokz bone conduction headphones or an AirDrives headset to use with BlindSquare. These models do not cover the ears, so that it is possible to hear both the iPhone but also traffic, echoes, and other sound clues that help to navigate safely. Using a small Bluetooth speaker, such as the Bem Speakerband is another option. All of these products support the BlindSquare Audio Menu.


In addition to the features discussed so far, BlindSquare can also act as a Foursquare client. However, a Foursquare account is by no means necessary to take full advantage of all of the BlindSquare features related to orientation and navigation.


This introduction is only an overview of the most important BlindSquare features. However, BlindSquare offers an extensive help found in the app under Help. Another blog by Christopher Tabb answers some questions orientation and mobility specialists might have when teaching BlindSquare.


By Sandra Pilz

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