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 distilled an inventory of smartphone-based electronic 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 solicited structured input from domain experts and visually impaired individuals on their experiences and evaluations pertaining to personal telecommunication technology for safe and efficient wayfinding. The insights gained from this project are instrumental 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 in an urban environment.

Photo by diego_cervo on istock.

Project Details

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

Other Products

  • Parker, A. T., Swobodzinski, M., Brown-Ogilvie, T., and Beresheim-Kools, J. (in press). The use of wayfinding apps by deafblind travelers in an urban environment: Insights from focus groups; Frontiers in Education – Educational Psychology. DOI: 10.3389/feduc.2020.572641 (PUBLICATION)
  • Lived experiences in wayfinding for individuals with visual impairment and deafblindness (PRESENTATION)
  • Building an Accessible City Panel Session (PRESENTATION)
  • Electronic Wayfinding Technology and Visual Impairment (PRESENTATION)