Neil Barnfather reflects on The Great 'Indoors'

by Unknown, 1/22/2021

Have you ever stopped to wonder how a person navigates when they cannot readily see to read signs, access a map or easily perceive directions? As a blind person, I often overhear comments from passersby as to how “wonderful” and “amazing” it is that I can “get about” on my own. Often the response from within the conversation reflecting on just how “great It is, what those dogs can do”, referring to my Guide Dog.

It’s of course true that Guide Dogs and canes, as an aspect to good Orientation and Mobility (O&M) skills, certainly help in making navigation possible. Never the less, it often feels that public perception is that a cane user has “enough” residual sight to manage to navigate the World around them much as a sighted person might, and, that Guide Dog users are totally blind, with the dog somehow ordained with mystical capabilities facilitating the free movement of the handler “anywhere they wish to go”.

Both scenarios are popular, yet incorrect, presumptions. Whether or not a person opts for the Inanimate approach provided through the use of a cane, or, the sometimes more proactive support of a Guide Dog; both solutions are a partnership. With the principal operating and decision making function being the human within the equation.

Persons within the sight loss community are required to devote huge portions of mental energy towards navigating; covering everything from a grasp of the route being undertaken, through to processing sensory landmarks upon that route. Sounds, smells, tactile indicators under foot and more besides goes into getting us where we wish to be. Even at that point, it’s still very much a restriction based upon knowledge, awareness and familiarity.

Over the past decades technology has provided a variety of solutions to aid in navigating the outside environment. Predominantly utilising GPS to support in following a route, much as a driver does within a vehicle, GPS solutions can help an individual to get close to a building.

What then though, most persons experiencing sight loss either have a complex and high functioning “mental map” of an environment, which assists in locating familiar points within a venue, but, this allows little to no scope for incidental discovery, and, very little opportunity for venturing outside of ones comfort zone.

When reflecting on the mental concentration required to operate in this fashion, and, the effort to which goes into independently being out, its little surprise that many persons from the sight loss community reflect that the experience is draining, stressful and can often lead to anxiety and other pressures.

Newly developed cloud technologies aim to remove this barrier and help those to whom cannot easily access signage, maps and other directional queues to move freely within indoor environments. Benefiting the community in a myriad of ways; providing opportunity to explore, readily identify our surroundings, access shops, restaurants and many other venues to which previously may have been invisible, or, overtly complex to access.

With the mental burden alleviated to an extent, the opportunity for incidental discovery, to browse, shop and spend time and our money in more ways not only makes good business sense, it also demonstrates a venues approach towards meeting its obligations of equality and access for all.

Approaching an organisations responsibilities, whether equality based or more generically under the remit of Access For All; being able to freely, readily and easily access your premises benefits visitors, customers, employees and a range of individuals besides. The GoodMaps approach has found its routes in facilitating the sight loss community, however, envisages supporting a more diverse pan-disability audience, including persons needing step free access, locating emergency exits and other emergency facilities. The journey and evolution of this technology has only just began.

The GoodMaps solution, which requires no complex network of bluetooth beacons to be installed, or, other hardware infrastructure throughout a venue to be maintained, provides an effective method for an individual to freely move around any conceivable space (both indoors and outside); independently, with confidence, assuredness and an enhanced feeling of liberation. Far beyond locating your venue, GoodMaps empowers the discovery of everything to which you have to offer; providing enhanced equality, comfort and independence whilst shopping, dining, at work, attending a performance - the opportunities derived from mapping your venue are endless.

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