A blind woman uses the smartphone app Evelity to get around in a complex venue

How Does a Blind Person Use Their Smartphone to Improve Their Mobility?

We know a guide dog can do many things for the mobility of its blind owner but they have their limitations. And that being accompanied by a sighted person is sometimes necessary. But is there a solution for blind and visually impaired people to be more independent and autonomous in their getting around? 

The answer is simple: with a smartphone.  It has turned into an everyday mobility assistant. 

How do they use their smartphone exactly? How has it revolutionized their mobility and their way of apprehending cities and venues?

Let’s dive in what technology has best to offer: making the lives of people with a visual impairment easier. 

The smartphone enhances inclusive mobility

This may probably surprise you but 89% of blind and visually impaired people use a smartphone. They can easily use their smartphone thanks to a screen reader. 

Of those 89%, 69% use VoiceOver and 29.5% TalkBack. 

They can send a text to a friend, reply to a colleague’s email, check out the weather forecast, subscribe to a Facebook page, do their shopping and pretty much anything other users do.

What interests us here is how a smartphone can help them get around in a city, how it can shape inclusive mobility

Cross the street

We all know that accessible pedestrian signals are essential for them. Innovative and connected APS like aBeacon provide remote and on demand activation.

With just a smartphone app, they can activate the accessible pedestrian signal of the crossing. 

The Ultimate Guide to Accessible Pedestrian Signals

Calculate their itinerary

The best way for blind and visually impaired people to tackle going to a new place is to fully prepare beforehand. They check out the specific address of the venue and calculate their itinerary.

This enables them to know how to reach their destination, which bus or subway line they need to use, and to organize as to arrive on time to their appointment.

Use public transportation

What’s the traffic like? When is the next bus due? People with vision disabilities can easily check their city’s public transit app. 

If their city provides this service, they can also use the MaaS platform (Mobility as a Service). It regroups every mode of transport available. They can plan their trip and even pay for it directly on the platform.

Use a GPS

Google Maps is one of the most popular GPS. It provides people with vision disabilities real-time traffic information. Plus its “Accessible Places” feature can help them locate a building entrance.

It’s the perfect GPS to find their way in the city and get information on the location of venues.

But there’s also indoor GPS like Evelity, an inclusive navigation app.

It helps blind and visually impaired people find their bearings in a complex venue like a subway network, a college or university, a museum, a shopping mall… 

Evelity provides step-by-step audio instructions with an accuracy up to 1 meter. It’s currently being tested at the JaySt-MetroTech subway station in New York City

Locate the entrance of a subway station or a public venue

Before being able to use Evelity within a subway station, people with visual impairments first need to locate the entrance of the subway station.

An audio beacon remains the most cost-effective and easiest solution to implement. 

When a blind person is nearby the subway station, they just have to activate its audio information using the dedicated smartphone app. The message can indicate the direction of the line and the opening hours of the station.

Once the audio beacon emits its message, the blind person can easily go towards it. And later on use Evelity.

This represents the perfect example of phygital: the combination of a physical equipment and a digital solution to improve accessibility.

What Is a Phygital Experience and How Can It Improve the Accessibility of Your Venue?

The smartphone is a powerful ally for the mobility of blind and visually impaired people

You’ve seen how people with vision disabilities can use their smartphone as a mobility assistant. But are you sure to understand the impact it has on their lives? And what it means for our cities and public venues?

More autonomy when getting around 

Using their smartphone, people with a visual impairment don’t need human assistance to find their way in a complex venue nor to find the entrance of the subway station. They remain autonomous.

And they take their mobility into their own hands. They can assess their options regarding their means of transportation. It’s entirely up to them.

Plus, if a public transport gains more accessibility thanks to an inclusive navigation app, this means blind and visually impaired people can use it instead of paratransit services.

Not having to rely on human assistance or paratransit services means less costs for a venue or a public transport authority.

Paratransit Services for People with Disabilities: Yes You Can Reduce Their Costs

Easy-to-use device

Blind and visually impaired people who use their own smartphone are already familiar with its features. They don’t need time to set it up nor to follow complicated directions for use. It’s more practical and easier for them to use their own smartphone than an unknown device.

For venues, cities and public transit, this means they just have to make the technology available to them: implementing accessible pedestrian signals like aBeacon that can be activated with an app and deploying an indoor navigation system like Evelity.

A mobility at hand

What’s also convenient with a smartphone is that we carry it in our pocket so we always have it on us. 

In the end, blind and visually impaired users just have to carry their smartphone. They don’t need to rely on another object they may forget at home. 

For venues and cities, this means they’re not responsible for setting up other equipment. They just have to make sure smartphones can be used.

A tool to collect accessibility data

More and more cities bet on opening data to make their services fully available to their residents.

For blind and visually impaired people, this means knowing what crossings are equipped with accessible pedestrian signals.

For cities, this means they can have information about the routes used by people with visual impairments. This can help them make the appropriate choice regarding the installation of other APS.

This is just an example of what collecting accessibility data can do. What’s sure is that it’s a win-win situation for cities and blind and visually impaired residents alike. 

As you can see, we all are more connected and blind and visually impaired people are no exception. But for them, a smartphone represents more freedom in their getting around. And this is priceless. 

Want to know more about the use of technology to help blind and visually impaired people? Check out these articles:

13 Must-Have Apps for Blind and Visually Impaired People

Mobility Apps for Blind People or How Technology Can Replace Special Assistance at the Airport

Artificial Intelligence and Accessibility: Examples of a Technology That Serves People with Disabilities

Published on December 16th, 2022

media

A blind woman uses Evelity in the Lyon metro for inclusive mobility

Using their smartphone, people with a visual impairment don’t need human assistance to find their way in a complex venue nor to find the entrance of the subway station. They remain autonomous.

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Carole Martinez

Carole Martinez

Content Manager & Copywriter

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