There are approximately two million people living with visual impairments in the UK. Due to the general ageing of the UK population, this number is expected to double to four million people by 2050 (RNIB n.d.).
Visual impairment brings with it many challenges. As most visually impaired people lose their sight at later points in life, people with visual impairments often need to adjust to new identities, and to new ways of living.
One particularly challenging area is navigation. Although required for everyday life, navigation is a highly complex and multi-faceted process. Navigation is commonly defined as “the goal-directed movement through space” (Freundschuh 2001, Montello 2001, 2005), but the factors related to navigation cover a wider range of issues than simply getting from A to B. Navigation embodies a host of physical, cognitive, social, and emotional components, all of which combine together to form a holistic system (Montello 2005, Golledge 1999, Allen 1999, Balaban et al. 2014, Palmiero & Piccardi 2017, Sanders 2000, Avila Soto & Funk 2018, Koelle et al. 2018, Profita et al. 2016, Shinohara et al. 2018, Faucett et al. 2017). For the visually impaired, the situation is complicated even further, and this complexity gives rise to a multitude of challenges that accessibility researchers take as their duty to address.
As we are not yet able to replace the sight of the visually impaired, the issue hinges on the quality of the tools we provide to visually impaired navigators, and on how well these tools help the visually impaired to navigate successfully and independently. Such tools are called navigation aids. Some navigation aids, such as the cane or guide dog, help navigators to avoid obstacles. Others, such as GPS-enabled devices, help navigators to plan and follow routes. One direct way to improve the navigation experience for the visually impaired is to improve the quality of their navigation aids. Although technology is more sophisticated and pervasive today than it has ever been, the burden of developing high quality navigation aids will always rest firmly on the shoulders of navigation aid designers. It is through their creativity and hard work that navigation aids come into being.
To support their work, my research is focused on developing a card-based design method, the Blind Nav Cards, that navigation aid designers can use to keep important issues quite literally “on the table” during creative design sessions.
The Blind Nav Cards provide two main benefits:
By providing designers with a rich repository of research-backed concepts, and structuring the use of that repository in the form of a card game, the Blind Nav Cards help navigation aid designers to consider a wide range of important concepts when they are designing. The game-like structure helps them to employ academic research in a way that is compatible with a creative environment. In turn, this will help designers to take a more comprehensive and holistic view of the needs of the visually impaired when designing aids.
It is hoped that use of the Blind Nav Cards will result in an improved design quality of navigation aids, and, ultimately, to an improved life quality for the visually impaired.
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This author is supported by the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training at the University of Nottingham (RCUK Grant No. EP/L015463/1) and Guide Dogs For The Blind Association.