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What Is Wayfinding, and How Do People Who Are Blind Use It?

Mobility, Orientation and Wayfinding

As humans, we are always looking for ways to orient ourselves with our surroundings. This not only helps us know where we are, but it also allows us to determine how to get where we want to go. We all use our senses, signs, illustrations and maps to help us get acquainted with our surroundings. This concept is known as wayfinding, and although we might not always be aware of it, we all utilize this during our daily lives.

Like anyone else, people who are blind or visually impaired also rely on wayfinding to know where we are and how we want to get to our destination. To compensate for our lack of sight, we use the cues we get from our environment through our senses of touch, hearing and smell. I might know I’m near a bakery when I notice the smell of warm bread, for instance. In order to travel safely and independently, we use mobility devices like a white cane or dog guide. This concept is known as orientation and mobility, or O&M for short. It is often necessary for someone who is blind to walk and experience a specific route multiple times so we can memorize it and learn our way. Depending on the length of each route and on each individual, it might take a minimum of two or three practice sessions for us to familiarize ourselves with a route we will travel often. This includes routes to and from home, work, school or any other place we visit frequently.

People with vision can easily find other information in their environment using sight. By reading a sign or looking at a map, they can easily tell they are where they need to be. This is true even in instances when they have never been to a location before. In contrast, people who are blind or visually impaired do not always have access to wayfinding information found on signs or maps. This puts us at a tremendous disadvantage, as it creates unnecessary barriers, literally in our path.

Fortunately for us, modern technologies are beginning to change this situation. Technological innovations like the Aware app, are making it possible for us to be more independent when out and about. This app, combined with good orientation and mobility skills, is opening many doors to independence. In future posts, we will look more closely at how exactly the Aware app helps those who are blind or visually impaired get around safely and independently even in unfamiliar places. Additionally, we will look at how businesses and other facilities benefit from adopting this new and revolutionary technology while giving more equal access to those who are blind or visually impaired.

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By Sandy Murillo, Contributor

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