Sensory Augmentation for Navigation in Difficult Urban Environments by People With Visual Impairment

Johnston, Anthony Denis (2013). Sensory Augmentation for Navigation in Difficult Urban Environments by People With Visual Impairment. PhD thesis The Open University.



Independent mobility in completing such tasks as walking through a town centre is taken for granted by well-bodied individuals. However, for those with a disability such as impairment of vision, mobility and navigation can become challenging tasks not easily undertaken. The barriers to access for blind and partially sighted individuals are increased when familiar navigational cues are removed in difficult urban environments such as Shared Space. The research consisted of investigating methods of navigation employed by people with visual impairment and designing a device to restore confidence to this group so as to lower the barriers of access to such environments.

Investigation was carried out through the deployment of a questionnaire; discussions with groups representing blind and partially sighted people; and a site visit to Shared Space environments. Statistical analysis was carried out on the results of the questionnaire to ascertain the navigational habits of blind and partially sighted individuals in different environments. From the analysis and the results of the discussions and site visit it was established that it would be socially acceptable to design a secondary aid to navigation that would complement the primary aids of long cane or guide dog. A concept experiment was carried out to test the idea that knowledge about changes in surface colour could help with navigation.

A prototype device that could be used by individuals with visual impairment to increase their confidence when navigating a difficult environment was designed, built and tested. Different programming methods were researched and trialled to effectively use machine vision to provide a solution to analyse video feed from a passive camera and return useful information to a blind or partially sighted user.

The device was tested indoors and outdoors and found to be effective at detecting changes in surface colour. Further work is needed to run the software on a more compact platform such as a mobile phone, but initial results show that the concept is viable and that the barriers that present to blind and partially sighted people navigating difficult urban environments can be much reduced through the use of this technology.

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