Google Maps

Google Maps New Voice Cues Help Visually Impaired Keep to Path

Google Maps has added more detailed voice guidance to its walking directions as a way to help the visually impaired travel around to unfamiliar places this week. The new feature debuted as part of World Sight Day.

Vocal Walking Guide

The new feature expands the existing walking directions guidance with several new elements. The directions are more proactive so that if you take a wrong turn, the vocal guide will tell you and find the best way to your destination from your new point. Along the way, it will tell you not only where to turn, but how far away it is and in what direction you are facing and the vocal guide will also alert you before reaching busy intersections.

“Frequent updates like these not only help a visually impaired person get from A to B, they can also give us more confidence and reassurance when we travel alone,” Wakana Sugiyama, a Google business analyst who helped build the new features, wrote in the blog announcing the update. “With detailed voice guidance in Google Maps, my journey fades into the background and I can focus more on what I’ll do at my final destination. This may not sound extraordinary to those with sight, but for people who are blind or have low vision, this can help us explore new and unfamiliar places.”

According to Sugiyama, the benefits of the new audio guidance in Google Maps can apply to those without impaired vision as well. Instead of needing to check the phone screen during a journey to figure out when to turn or if you’ve gone off track, the voice guide can keep you up-to-date. The new feature is currently available on Google Maps in English in the U.S. and Japanese in Japan for both iOS and Android. Google said it plans to add more countries and languages soon.

Accessibility Traveling to New Endeavors

The connection between voice technology and accessibility is garnering a growing amount of attention from developers, particularly when it comes to visual impairment. Last month, Amazon created a new first-party Alexa Show skill aimed at people with visual impairment called Show and Tell. The skill can identify boxes, cans, or other packaged items held up to the device’s camera, helping those who can’t see identify them. The new skill arrived not long after an ad for Alexa came out in the UK specifically highlighting how the voice assistant can aid someone with low-vision.

Google hasn’t been slow in promoting its own efforts to build accessible technology. The company launched its Action Blocks feature this autumn to let users create pre-set Google Assistant commands and shortcuts explicitly as an aid for people with disabilities. And it helped sponsor a hackathon in Europe to come up with new ways for Google Assistant to help people with neuromuscular disorders. All of these efforts by voice tech developers are only small parts of larger strategies, but they do hint at how this kind of technology could improve the lives of people with disabilities with some thought and creativity.


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