Technology Helps Map the World for the Visually Impaired

February 10, 2016

For the visually impaired, daily tasks like going on a walk, ordering coffee or even navigating a busy college campus to get to class become time-consuming and inconvenient. Even the slightest distraction can interfere with their ability to focus on the task at hand.

Compared to a decade ago, though, the ease and cost effectiveness of modern assistive technology has improved dramatically. A plethora of digital apps help the visually impaired exercise, walk through streets and complete daily tasks with maximum convenience and efficiency.

In the recent article, "How Technology Is Helping the Blind Navigate the Physical World," Slate outlined some of the major technological advances that help the visually impaired navigate the world more easily. Among them was VizWiz, a voice-receptive smartphone application developed by HCII Associate Professor Jeff Bigham that answers visual questions. Blind individuals can take a photo and submit a question about it that is then directed to either a computer database or a human worker. The app then provides real-time answers to those questions. When it comes to locating items or identifying what images, signs or objects mean, the app proves to be incredibly helpful.

Assistive technology breakthroughs like VizWiz, and others like CMU's NavCog project and Be My Eyes — also mentioned in the article — help take navigating for the blind a step further: from the digital world to the physical one.

Read more about VizWiz and recent advancements in similar technologies on Slate.

Story by Aisha Rashid (DC'2019)