Comparing Tactile to Auditory Guidance for Blind Individuals Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • The ability to travel independently is crucial to an individual's quality of life but compromised by visual impairment. Several navigational aids have been developed for blind people to address this limitation. These devices typically employ auditory instructions to guide users to desired waypoints. Unfortunately, auditory instructions may interfere with users' awareness of environmental sounds that signal dangers or provide cues for spatial orientation. Accordingly, there is a need to explore the use of non-auditory modalities to convey information for safe and independent travel. Here, we explored the efficacy of a tactile navigational aid that provides turn signals via vibrations on a hip-worn belt. We compared the performance of 12 blind participants as they navigated a series of paths under the direction of the tactile belt or conventional auditory turn commands; furthermore, we assessed the effect of repeated testing, both in the presence and absence of simulated street sounds. A computer-controlled system triggered each turn command, measured participants' time-to-path-completion, and detected major navigational errors. When participants navigated in a silent environment, they performed somewhat worse with the tactile belt than the auditory device, taking longer to complete each trial and committing more errors. When participants navigated in the presence of simulated street noises, the difference in completion time between auditory and tactile navigation diminished. These results suggest that tactile navigation holds promise as an effective method in everyday environments characterized by ambient noise such as street sounds.

publication date

  • 2019