Thoughts about Independent and Assisted Navigation

My blog entry today concerns navigation–both cognitive and computer-assisted.  
Yesterday, a friend and I spent the day in downtown Minneapolis–attending a diversity job fair at the Convention Center. Before leaving the house, I gathered
up all the pieces of my Trekker (GPS receiver, PDA, and speaker), and headed out the door. Once in the car, I put the pieces together, and turned it on.
Nothing happened…Again…  
While the idea behind the Trekker is an amazing one, and while it is a great little device when it works, I have to say (as someone who has owned one for
the better part of 2 years) that I have *never* gotten the thing to work when I truly needed it. Oh, sure, I’ve gotten it to work while driving in the
car with my sighted fiancé, who grew up in the Twin Cities and doesn’t need a GPS because the area is so familiar to him, but in instances when it would
actually enhance my ability to orient myself… 
Two years ago, my sister and I took a trip to Portland together. As we’d never been there alone (we’d gotten our dogs at GDB’s Oregon campus, so had gotten
around with the help of guide dog instructors), I thought my GPS would be a great tool. Not a single time, during our week in Portland, did I get it to
Then there was the time I went to Vegas for the ACB Convention. Do you think I got it to work there? No. 
And, last week, when the ACB Convention was here, in Minneapolis, I wanted to take the Trekker on a walk to better explore downtown (living in the burbs,
I don’t get up there much). You guessed it…Nothing…  
So it didn’t surprise me, though it definitely pissed me off, when I turned on the unit yesterday morning, and realized that it didn’t charge properly.
This is likely due to the fact that the case doesn’t fit the PDA correctly, due to the overlay that HumanWare places on top of the screen. I think this
made it too thick to fit in the cradle, and thus, it didn’t rest on the pins properly, and thus, it did not charge. 
I have rarely seen a piece of technology that requires so many proverbial stars to fall into alignment before it will work. If the unit charges properly,
and if you have the correct version of the software installed, and if the correct maps have been loaded, and if there are enough satellites in view, and
if you stand still long enough for the unit to find you in a heavily urban area…it’s a great piece of technology. I’m looking forward to the release
of a comparable cell phone-based product. I know that Way Finder and the like are already out there, but I haven’t heard much about their performance or
user interfaces. If anyone has personal experience with one of these other GPS apps, I’d love to hear more about it.  
So this brings me to the other part of my entry. The one that talks about cognitive navigation. As much as these little GPS devices can be an amazing supplement
to our orientation, I believe that this is exactly what they should be viewed as–a supplement. For instance, if I didn’t possess good orientation skills;
and if I hadn’t paid attention to the names of streets and businesses, to landmarks, and to directions during my previous trips to downtown Minneapolis;
I would have been hopelessly lost (not to mention on the verge of a panic attack) without electronic help. 
I have simply seen too many blind people who rely on (or even expect) other people and animals to know where they are. I’ve seen people who don’t pay any
attention to their surroundings, or to the cues in their environment, and then get pissed off when they get lost. Having been at the convention last week,
I saw some individuals who were incredibly oriented and in  tune with what was happening around them. And then there were those who couldn’t find their
way out of a paper bag with a pencil and a set of directions. I realize that everyone has varying abilities when it comes to spatial awareness or memory,
but come on, people. These individuals at convention who walk around slapping their cane from side to side as hard as they can, or hopping their dog up
into walls or other people and dogs–without even taking the time to check where they are–drive me insane. These people who tell their dog to “find outside”
when they, themselves, don’t even know where the hell the nearest door is–put me over the edge. It is our responsibility, as blind people, whether we
use a dog or a cane, whether we’re walking sighted guide or on our own, to at least try to learn about what’s going on around us. This awareness is what
builds the sorts of mobility skills that allow us to travel to foreign places independently. When you have good problem solving skills, and the ability
to synthesize the information your environment provides, getting lost doesn’t have to become an excuse to have a break down. And we don’t have to be the
person that other blind people hate to have around, because we can’t leave our hotel room at convention without clinging on to another person. 
Just my two cents.     

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I'm an accessibility advocate working on issues involving technology and people with print impairment. I'm a stoner, crackpot, hacker and all around decent fellow. I blog at this site and occasionally contribute to Skepchick. I'm a skeptic, atheist, humanist and all around left wing sort. You can follow this blog in your favorite RSS reader, and you can also view my Twitter profile (@gonz_blinko) and follow me there.

5 thoughts on “Thoughts about Independent and Assisted Navigation”

  1. If the blind person lost his vision in his youth and has good intelligeence, I think your comments may be apt. But not all of the blind are as adroit as you appear to be, and those who lost vision in later years may still be trying to cope with the loss. Perhaps we need a bit more patience with each other.

  2. Attention Comrades!
    Before descending to the Party Bunker, possibly to search for vodka, emergency pharmaceuticals and his Berretta Laramie pistol, Chairman Mal ordered me to respond to your incisive post. As you may know our Dear leader suffered from a severe case of triskaidekaphobia as a result of past trauma. Thanks to Dr. Bill M More, Chairman Mal conquered his dread of the number thirteen, but he�s apparently now suffering from either frigatrigadecaphobia or Paraskevidekatriaphobia, whichever turns out to require the most counseling. Anyway, our Dear Leader said your were dead on about the �damned assistive navigation devices, especially the screenless phone less gizmo from Capitalist Inaccessibility.� In fact, the device Chairman Mal refers to does not pupporrt to have GPS capability, but inasmuch as his second screenless phone within the year just died, he said, �They don�t do Jack-Shit anyway.� Finally, Chairman Mal agrees that all blind people have an absolute responsibility to hone their O & M skills. He asks, however, that you reserve a modicum of sympathy for aging boomers with progressive retinal disease that cause what he describes as �a personal and perpetual acid trip as a consequence of a kind of ocular phantom-limb syndrome.�
    Drew L Spitz, ATC/BPP Very Public Affairs Officer
    Power to the Peeps!

  3. Dena, your comment about using Trekker and the proverbial stars being in alignment made me laugh outloud. I have also owned a Trekker for the better part of a year, but I was one of the un-luckies who also had to deal with the Windows 2003 version which would dump everything as soon as the battery goes flat. In the best of cercomstances I wondered if I were playing a video game, because sometimes you win but more often you loos. I’ve been using Way Finder Access and it is much much easier to use than Trekker or the BrailleNote GPS. The fact that I need to pay for data service is only a draw-back financially which I am happy to pay with the knowledge that I can go anywhere in the continental United States and always have easy access to points of interest without ever having to load maps, a process that I’m sure you know takes anywhere from 30-45 minutes depending on the map.

  4. loadstone gps. You download/install the software on your nokia series 60 phone, and it works with talks/mobile speak. All you need is a gps receiver.

  5. This is a lesson for all of us — not only blind people traipsing about disoriented, but sighted friends, driving about lost in their cars. When we feel angry and frustrated because we can’t figure out how to get to our destinations, how often is it our own fault for not paying attention to cues in our environment. How many times have I charged off half-cocked, not paid attention, given the dog vague commands, refused to slow down, in short sabatoged my own perfectly adept ability to get places! And I’ve seen sighted friends do the very same thing — they just need faster speeds and longer distances to get disoriented.

    I agree with the annonymous commenter about loadstone. But it’s not a mapping product. Oh, you can use it with those free maps. Butthey’ll let you down, not discover the program’s true value. Loadstone lets you drop breadcrumbs, mark your own points, work with a GPS the way a sighted hiker might. See my comments on the loadstone website how this product help me master the mysteries of the 112-acre campus where I work.

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