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Google Maps Launches Detailed Voice Guidance to Help the Blind and Visually Impaired with Navigation

October 22, 2019
Source: Cool Blind Tech

[Note: The online article includes a captioned YouTube video showing a blind Japanese woman using the app to walk around a city.]

As part of World Sight Day, Google Maps is improving walking directions for people with visual impairments. The Google service can now offer more detailed voice guidance and new types of verbal announcements.

Google Maps already offers voice prompts to accompany visual instructions on the screen, but now can provide more detailed walking directions like proactive alerts that let you know you’re on the correct route.

Maps might note the distance to your next turn, as well as the current direction and street you’re on. Other examples include alerts when you’re crossing a large road.

The initiative was spearheaded by Wakana Sugiyama, a Tokyo-based business analyst at Google who is legally blind and uses a walking cane to move around. Going from her home to her office is a route she is comfortable taking as she is familiar with it – but venturing some place new and unfamiliar can be an intimidating experience.

“Some of my most pressing concerns include knowing if I’m going the right way or if a street is safe to cross,” she said. “I also frequently wonder if I missed a turn, if I’m on the correct side of the street at the right time, and of course, whether I’ve reached my destination, or if I’ve already passed it.”

The Japanese Googler has spent the past year working with the Google Maps team to develop a more helpful navigation solution for the visually impaired.

This accessibility feature was “built from the ground up by, and for, people with vision impairments.” Google also touts how it can be useful for users that want a “screen-free experience on their next walking trip,” which has interesting applications for audio forms of augmented reality.

Right now, individuals in Japan and the U.S. will be able to activate a new feature in Google Maps on both Android and iOS to receive more verbal updates on walking trips. The app will provide periodic announcements, alerts, warnings and provide a compass heading as well.

To turn the feature on, users can go to the Google Maps settings and select “Navigation.” At the bottom of the list will be the option to enable “Detailed voice guidance,” beneath the “Walking options” heading.

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