If, like me, you’re blind, you will know that heart-sinking moment when you realise you’ve got off the bus, tube or train at the wrong stop or been dropped off by a taxi in the wrong place.
“Oh no. Not again. Where am I? How do I get to where I need to go?”
Twenty years ago, answering those questions relied entirely on good cane and brain work.
“Phew! A face-full of holly. I recognise that sequence of posts and overhanging bushes. I know where I am!”
Then along came GPS technology, with its promise of location information and turn by turn directions.
One of the earliest commercially available accessible GPS systems involved lugging around a laptop and, in my experience, frequently got locations wrong by up to half a mile, or completely lost the signal.
Thankfully, things have improved and continue to do so.
Nowadays, there are a number of small accessible GPS solutions, including smartphones and smartwatches, and accuracy is generally much improved.
But finding our way is still a challenge.
GPS systems, for example, will happily tell you to make a turn that would involve crossing an extremely busy road or walking along a road with no pavement. They certainly don’t take account of people’s wishes to avoid cluttered pavements.
Plus, indoors, such as inside train stations or shopping centres, the GPS signal is generally unavailable.
New technologies are emerging that could help. But many involve expensive installation of beacons.
At the same time, services that train blind people in those all important ‘cane and brain’ skills that can get us out of wayfinding scrapes, and services that provide human guides for blind or deafblind people, are being cut.
As a result of these service cuts, independent, safe and efficient wayfinding is, perhaps growing in importance.
How can we facilitate safe and efficient getting around for people with combined sight and hearing impairments?
New technology will, almost certainly, have a role to play. But, so too, will inclusive design of places, information systems, transport, products and services.
I am convinced that there are great possibilities for improving the safety and efficiency with which deafblind people get around.
Realising these possibilities means that designers, planners and deafblind people need to work together.
That is why I am excited that Sense is organising an event to bring these groups together to come up with new, practical ideas for solving the challenge of going anywhere, anytime, knowing that it is safe and efficient to get there.
The event is in Leeds on 15 March 2016 and there’s a preparation day for deafblind people on 2 March 2016. If you are interested, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org