Meeting #3, November 19, 2015.
GPS solutions: Brian Moore
Brian began by noting that conventional GPS tools omit critical information for those with vision loss – names of intersections, passing points of interest, etc. – so he would not focus on these devices/systems, except insofar as they interface with systems specifically designed for the blind. As such, there are really only a couple of options remaining in the marketplace.
Trekker Breeze is a dedicated *single function), hand-held device designed for use by the vision impaired. It has no screen (the user interface is audio). It has raised buttons. It has limited route planning capability, allows you to mark points of interest, and will indicate streets as you come to them.
The other major class of GPS systems is smart-phone based, both for i-phone and android. In Brian’s opinion, the accessibility features on android phones are not quite as good as those for i-phone. He will focus on, and demonstrate an IOS-based app called ‘Blind Square’, designed for blind and partially sighted users.
Some general notes on pricing: I-phones, tablets, etc are relatively expensive but are multi-purpose tools combining many different functions. Once past the initial hurdle of buying the hardware, many of the applications are free or very inexpensive. Blind Square currently retails online for about CAD$39.
The Breeze stand-alone GPS retails for about $800.
Q: are there android options?
A: Brian uses a free public transport app, available for both android and IOS, called ‘Transit’ to find out when the next bus or streetcar is coming to a stop location. Google maps is also available for android, and is particularly good for planning a route or finding a location you haven’t been to before. There may soon be an android version of Blind Square but, on a recent check of the Blind Square website, there was no indication of this.
Aside from the Breeze, there are a couple of other stand-alone GPS units, some with built-in DAISy players and other functions but, in Brian’s view, many of these have problems with satellite signal acquisition, or more complicated interfaces, etc.
Demonstrating GPS devices from inside a building is challenging. But there are many u-tube videos available on using GPS devices. Blind Square has a number of excellent demonstration videos in real-world situations on its website at www.blindsquare.com
Comment from participant: There is an upgrade available now for the Trekker Breeze which costs about $200 but which significantly improves the functionality of the unit.
Q: Is there a difference in the level of accuracy between the Breeze and a phone-based system?
A: Although satellites are more accurate, the practical limit of all GPS systems is to within 10 metres. This means you might use your GPS device to check your location and be told the address across the street.
Q: Can I use voice commands to pick a destination and get walking directions?
A: Yes, using Apple Maps, a function that is built in to I-phones. But Apple Maps presumes you can see where you are. You can check your location from time to time, but Apple Maps will not automatically tell you when you’re crossing an intersection or passing a point of interest, as Blind Square will.
Brian demonstrated the Blind Square app (selecting a pre-programmed address because the phone was not picking up satellite signal indoors). Locations can be logged as “Favorites”, to make them easy to find again. “Start Tracking” gives compass directions, in clock face or degrees, as you start moving toward your destination. Because Brian has an Uber (taxi alternative) app on his phone, Blind Square can tell how quickly a car could pick him up and roughly what the cost of the fair would be. “Share This Place” allows you to send the destination as a link on Google Maps, to someone else via email.
“Plan a Route”, when activated, will ask what app you’d like to use, listing as options any route-planning app installed on the phone. One option is Navigon North America. This app costs about $80 but, unlike most apps, allows you to download maps and routes and work offline. This means that if you can’t get a data signal, or want to avoid expensive roaming charges, you can still find your destination.
From within Blind Square, Brian selects Google Maps to plan his route and can get step-by-step instructions on how to get there, including cues about current location, nearby intersections, points of interest, etc.
If planning a route via transit, Brian uses Google Maps on its own without Blind Square, as Google Maps is very accessible using the most current version of Voice Over. Past versions of Voice Over have not worked as well. Double tap the Google Maps icon, select travel mode (driving, transit, walking or bicycling) and then input the destination. You can set parameters on your trip, allowing you to travel at a different time of day, or on a date in the future, etc. But for travel directions right now, you can skip the parameters and just press “Start navigation”, and begin your trip. If you swipe to the right and double tap, it will give you spoken step-by-step instructions.
Although you can plan a route using Blind Square, Blind Square does not do the actual route planning. It feeds your destination and current location to another route-planning app, like Google maps or Apple maps, which does the route planning. As well, Blind Square does not give ‘turn-by-turn’ directions.
Q: If I don’t have a street address, can I use an intersection as my destination?
A: Yes. Intersections, landmarks, and other kinds of locations can be used as destinations. Even subway stations should be available as destinations. As well, Google Maps will allow you to save histories of places you have been and will “make suggestions” about similar places. Google Maps will also scan content in your g-mail inbox and suggest directions on how to get to a location listed there.
Toronto transit information can come from a number of different sources. The
Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has a text service tied to the four- or five-digit number codes which identify every bus stop and subway platform. If you text the number code to “TEXT TTC” (416-839-8882 the service will text you back with the times the next 3 buses or trains will arrive at that stop.
As these are just text messages, you don’t need to use any data. You can save this number in your contacts instead of having to decode the name each time you want the number.
Other public transit apps include “Pocket Rocket”, “Rocket man”, and “Next Bus”. Each of these have slightly different features and interfaces, so it’s a matter of personal preference which one to use.