Navigation and Information Systems for Blind Persons
Physical orientation of blind people and their navigation in well-known or strange environments may be practically supported in several ways, one of the options being personal assistance. The assistant provides information about the environment and he or she virtually guides the person. As due to various reasons (organizational, social, etc.) this option is not always available and as adult blind people naturally tend to prefer independent navigation, we believe adapting the premises and rooms highly likely to be frequented by blind people in addition to adopting measures that encourage the possibility of moving freely and independently, is more useful.
These measures do not merely consist in removing possible physical barriers that may impede safe movement, such as free standing flower pots, litter bins, etc., but encompass a complex orientation system accessible to blind users.
Components of the Navigation system and implementation process
Looking at the standard navigation system used indoors and outdoors, it is apparent that it relies almost exclusively on purely visual information and it is often located beyond the physical reach of the users, e.g. information boards or digital boards placed at different heights, etc. Therefore, it is obvious that the navigation system for the blind cannot strictly follow the traditional visual-based system as blind users gain certain sort of information in a different manner and their requirements differ from those of standard users.
Having said that, the coexistence of both systems is possible, we choose to combine them and create one functional unit that can benefit everybody. A typical example of such coexistence is door signs. Being usually located within the user’s physical reach, blind users can also access the information the door sign provides if the sign contains the tactile component as well.
When designing the navigation system for the blind, we typically consider the following individual components, although they are often interlinked:
Tactile orientation plans – located outdoors or indoors – show in a well-arranged manner the basic layout of a certain setting, indicate the key landmarks and provide essential details to ensure users have a clear idea of the area in question. Ideally, blind users should have the plan at their disposal before entering the environment and the information from the map is preferably complemented with a comment by an instructor who knows both the tactile representation and the reality.
Tactile navigation signage in situ supports safe self-navigation on the spot. It generally applies to indoor signage as it is relatively easy to predict where the signs can be placed. Placing signs in outdoor environments does not seem efficient given the heterogeneity of the environment and/or the objects situated in it, which impedes consistent signage positioning; as a result, blind users may never know about their existence. On the other hand, tactile signs can be suitably combined with the visual component. It is the case of the aforementioned door signs that provide the necessary information in Braille, e. g. door number, purpose of the room, etc.
Acoustic wayfinding is the practice of using the so called voice beacons for orientation. It is used especially to navigate users to a certain reference point, e.g the entrance, by emitting a signal. At the same time, it can provide additional acoustic information related to the reference spot. This method is used almost exclusively in outdoor environments. It may exceptionally apply to interiors whose size and complexity is beyond the usual standard.
Digital information system is a suitable additional help which a blind user can get before setting off for a specific location (a building, etc.) and learn for example about the door number he or she is about to visit. Once on the spot, it is possible to locate the door thanks to the tactile signage system.
In terms of technical production, we only produce the first two mentioned navigation aids. Taking into account the desired durability of the product and also the aesthetic aspects, we select the appropriate method to produce tactile maps or individual signs. There are three technologies we employ to produce tactile maps. Please see the Tactile graphics production and its subsection Technologies used for production of tactile graphics. To produce indoor signs that are meant to be durable and have a certain aesthetic value, we prefer fitting the Braille dots in the form of round pellets (in fact, small beads) into the surfaces made out of different materials, such as plastic sheets that can be either of various colours or transparent (please see the gallery at the end of the page).