Getting out and about: Using a smartphone to navigate independently

Hear from Lynne Nicholson, a regular viewer of our Knowledge Village content.
She uses her smartphone to travel independently, thanks to the many navigation apps out there.
Read on to find out her favourites and how she uses them.

Introduction to our guest blogger

If you have sight loss, the thought of getting out and about independently can be daunting, especially in unfamiliar areas and environments.

However, there are many tools which can give visually impaired people the confidence to travel independently, one of which being the smartphone.

Smartphones have revolutionised the options available to visually impaired people to aid them to travel independently, thanks to their many accessibility features, in-built GPS and the vast array of navigation apps available to download.

In this blog, hear from Lynne, who uses various navigation apps to maintain her independence when out and about, and ultimately go beyond expectations. Read what she has to say below.

Photo of Lynne Nicholson
A screenshot of a travel apps folder. Along the top row are the apps Arriva Bus UK, Moovit and What3words. Along the bottom are Lazarillo and Soundscape.

Using my smartphone to maintain independence

I lost my sight as a result of the eye condition Punctate Inner Choridopathy (PIC). Initially, I would only travel to places I knew very well and would only shop at a local supermarket I used to work at, as I knew the layout well enough to shop alone.

Things changed when I was introduced to some videos from Henshaws by a Facebook friend, and this led me to find more videos related to sight loss. This enabled me to expand my horizons again.

One tool that enables me to maintain my independence is my smartphone, along with the many navigation apps that I have installed. With these I can travel with confidence, travel to unfamiliar places and most importantly maintain my independence.

The apps I use come in handy for different reasons – listed below are all the navigation apps I use.

Arriva Bus UK

With Arriva Bus UK, I can check bus timetables, plan journeys and track the bus I want using the live map.

The app has limited functionality as it only gives information for Arriva buses, however most of my journeys involve travelling on Arriva buses, and I find the information reasonably accessible to me.

Download from the App Store

Download from the Play Store

Moovit

Moovit is also useful for bus travel, providing the bus has its internal beacon enabled, which allows real-time information about a bus to be sent to Moovit.

Moovit alerts me as the bus I want approaches the bus stop so if I’m alone, I can signal for the bus to stop.

Providing VoiceOver is enabled, the app will speak announcements to indicate that I am approaching the stop where I would like to get off.

The app will alert me two stops before my stop, one stop before and then as the bus approaches the stop where I would like to get off.

Download from the App Store

Download from the Play Store

Microsoft Soundscape

Soundscape uses 3D audio technology to give you information about your surroundings, including nearby places and which direction they are in relation to your current location.

You can also place an audio beacon on a particular location so that you can know where you are in relation to that place, as Soundscape will sound audio to indicate the direction of that location and will also announce the distance from that location as you approach it.

I use Microsoft Soundscape in a couple of ways.

When I moved to a new area, I placed a beacon on my home while I explored my environment. Soundscape alerted me every time I was facing my home.

I also use Soundscape on bus journeys (when Moovit is not working as it should) as Soundscape will announce when I approach the stop where I want to get off.

It is useful though to research the name of the stop before the one I need in advance of making my journey as unlike Moovit, Soundscape does not indicate how many stops I am away from my stop.

You can watch this video in which Mark from the Henshaws Digital Team puts Soundscape to the test.

Please note that Soundscape is currently only available on iOS.

Download from the App Store

Maps

Although most people use the in-built Apple Maps app for getting directions, I often get frustrated because it recommends walking routes along busy roads with no pavement.

I use the Maps app for route planning – I enable satellite mode so that I can use it when at home to plan my own routes and check the area.

Apple Maps is installed on Apple products including the iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch straight out of the box, however the App Store link is provided for anybody who needs it:

Download from the App Store

Google offers a similar app, Google Maps, which is available on both iOS and Android:

Download from the App Store

Download from the Play Store

Lazarillo

Lazarillo is an all-in-one navigation app that has features of Moovit, Soundscape and Maps.

When you launch the app, it automatically starts exploration mode so that you can find out what’s around you. You can also highlight a place and Lazarillo will speak the distance away from the location as well as the direction in relation to your current location.

The app can also give turn-by-turn directions. I tested this feature on the way home from my local hospital.

Initially it suggested that I cross a busy road that I try to avoid in evenings. I continued on the route that I usually take and eventually Lazarillo recalibrated and suggested the route I normally take, including the footpath running through green space I normally use when walking home from the hospital.

Lazarillo will be a good back-up app when used on the bus in exploration mode and for getting directions. I don’t use apps to get walking directions that often.

Download from the App Store

Download from the Play Store

What3Words

What3Words divides the UK into 3m squares and each square is assigned three words (a What3Words address), making it easy for people to identify and navigate to precise locations.

This app comes into its own when walking in local woodlands or meeting people.

As I cannot see who people are three feet away, and they are totally invisible six feet away, What3Words will get me closer to meeting people as we can agree to meet at the same What3Words address.

If ever I had an accident when walking in my local woodlands, I would provide my What3Words address so that people can find me more easily.

Download from the App Store

Download from the Play Store

Those are the navigation apps that I use to maintain my independence. If you haven’t already, why not download them and have an explore of them yourself.

If you would like to learn more about me, you can check out my blog, Was That A Dinosaur? in which I discuss how I live independently with sight loss.

 

If you live in Greater Manchester and would like more information about using a smartphone to be more independent, give our Digital Enablement team a call on 0300 222 5555 or email info@henshaws.org.uk

There is also the Henshaws Knowledge Village which provides tips, tricks and tech for living with sight loss through videos, blogs and eBooks.

The Knowledge Village includes an eBook dedicated to apps for people living with a visual impairment, and this includes a section dedicated to navigation apps.

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Alice
Alice
Alice is the Digital Communications Officer and is responsible for producing blogs and EBooks for Henshaws Knowledge Village.