This article was published on October 11, 2019

Google releases voice guidance in Maps for visually impaired people

Google releases voice guidance in Maps for visually impaired people Image by: Google Maps
Cara Curtis
Story by

Cara Curtis

Former TNW writer

Whenever you travel someplace new, chances are Google Maps got you there. The action of turning right down a street or crossing a road is something most people take for granted. But this same trip for a blind or visually impaired person could be a completely different journey, and even a dangerous one — this is why Google has introduced “Voice Guidance” in its Maps app. 

This feature helps visually impaired people get to their destination when walking. It works by continually reminding users they’re on the right path, while giving warnings if there’s a busy crosswalk ahead, and telling them how far away their next turn is using detailed voice navigation. 

In a blogspot published yesterday by Google, which was also World Sight Day, the tech giant outlined all there is to know about the feature. Alongside continuous updates, the tool will send out a spoken alert if the user has taken a wrong turn and will automatically reroute the journey. 

In the post written by Wakana Sugiyama, a visually impaired business analyst who worked closely with Maps to build and test this accessibility feature, said: “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.

“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.”

Sugiyama also notes how this feature can be beneficial to everyone since it provides a screen-free experience when traveling to new places. With this in mind, the accessibility tool could prevent accidents where pedestrians use their phones when crossing the road. 

The detailed voice guidance for walking navigations started rolling out on Android and iOS devices yesterday. To activate it, just head to your Google Maps settings and select Navigation. At the bottom of the list you’ll find the option to enable Detailed voice guidance, beneath the Walking options heading. 

Currently, the feature is available in English in the US and in Japanese in Japan, with support for additional language and countries “on the way.” 

For more stories on accessibility, check out High Contrast. In this article series we look at how assistive technology can help people with disabilities overcome challenges in their lives, and the pioneers innovating in solutions to make everyday tools more accessible.

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