A Comprehensive Examination of Electronic Wayfinding Technology for Visually Impaired Travelers in an Urban Environment

Martin Swobodzinski, Portland State University



Human wayfinding and navigation are key organizing activities that allow human beings to acquire knowledge about the environment and develop cognitive representations in support of such essential tasks as route planning and travel. These activities are non-trivial in that they afford the activation of various cognitive systems and functions pertaining to wayfinding and navigation. Irrespective of the continuing proliferation of electronic travel aids and their evident facilitation of human wayfinding, producers of digital mapping and travel support applications have yet to widely consider individuals with a visual impairment as a target audience--presumably due to a lack of awareness, resources, knowledge, guidelines, or best practices when it comes to the design and implementation of interactive mapping and travel support products for visually impaired user.

A substantial amount of research has been undertaken regarding the wayfinding abilities of the visually impaired, including research on electronic travel aids. Missing, however, is a comprehensive collection and critical description of travel aids and applications that best leverage current personal telecommunication technology. In this project, we will distill an inventory of state-of-the-art travel aid technology for the wayfinding of visually impaired travelers in an urban environment based on a thorough review of software marketplaces and the academic literature. Subsequently, we will solicit structured input from domain experts and visually impaired individuals on evaluation criteria that will allow us to quantify the suitability of personal telecommunication technology for the safe and efficient wayfinding of visually impaired users. The insights gained from this project will be fundamental for the conceptualization and development of integrated route planning and guidance application that address the distinct information needs and expectations of individuals with a vision-related functional impairment. The very objective of our project is to provide pathways for improving the quality of life of people who experience disproportionate impediments to their mobility through inclusive pedestrian navigation, and subvert normative assumptions regarding technology-mediated individual travel in an urban environment.


March 30, 2018: We expect that the insights gained from this study will support the development and expansion of personal communication technologies and wayfinding and navigation tools that are accessible and effective for both sighted and visually-impaired individuals. By advancing research regarding smartphone applications, as well as sharing relevant information about already available resources, the community of users will benefit from the co-production and exchange of knowledge on the most reliable technologies. As wayfinding and navigation for the visually-impaired community begets independence and self-sufficiency, the better the understanding of these technologies, the more accessible and available the independent travel itself becomes.

Project Details

Project Type:
Small Starts
Project Status:
In Progress
End Date:
July 15,2019
UTC Grant Cycle:
NITC 16 Small Starts 2017
UTC Funding:

Other Products

  • Lived experiences in wayfinding for individuals with visual impairment and deafblindness (PRESENTATION)
  • Electronic Wayfinding Technology and Visual Impairment (PRESENTATION)