Virtual navigation for blind people: Building sequential representations of the real-world
When preparing to visit new locations, sighted people often look at maps to build an a priori mental representation of the environment as a sequence of step-by-step actions and points of interest (POIs), e.g., turn right after the coffee shop. Based on this observation, we would like to understand if building the same type of sequential representation, prior to navigating in a new location, is helpful for people with visual impairments (VI). In particular, our goal is to understand how the simultaneous interplay between turn-by-turn navigation instructions and the relevant POIs in the route can aid the creation of a memorable sequential representation of the world. To this end, we present two smartphone-based virtual navigation interfaces: VirtualLeap, which allows the user to jump through a sequence of street intersection labels, turn-by-turn instructions and POIs along the route; and VirtualWalk, which simulates variable speed step-by-step walking using audio effects, whilst conveying similar route information. In a user study with 14 VI participants, most were able to create and maintain an accurate mental representation of both the sequential structure of the route and the approximate locations of the POIs. While both virtual navigation modalities resulted in similar spatial understanding, results suggests that each method is useful in different interaction contexts.