On World Sight Day, 10th October, the Google Maps team announced the launch of an additional feature that gives more detailed voice guidance to those who can’t rely on their vision. The initiative was spearheaded by Wakana Sugiyama, a Tokyo-based business analyst at Google who is legally blind and uses a walking cane to move around. The feature was introduced through Google’s blog.
Google Maps can now help visually impaired people get to their walking destinations more easily — by continually reminding them that they’re on the right path, warning them when there’s a busy crosswalk ahead, telling them how far away their next turn is using voice navigation, and automatically pointing them back in the right direction if they have to stop.
Moreover, users will be told to cross the street with additional caution as they come upon large intersections. And if they accidentally get off the correct route, they’ll be told they’re being re-routed.
“Some of my most pressing concerns include knowing if I’m going the right way or if a street is safe to cross,” she said. “I also frequently wonder if I missed a turn, if I’m on the correct side of the street at the right time, and of course, whether I’ve reached my destination, or if I’ve already passed it.”
“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, similar to the announcements you might hear at crosswalks or on a bus, everyone can benefit from it, not everyone will need this level of assistance, but it’s great to know it’s available and only a tap away,” she added.
Sugiyama is among the 36 million people who are blind worldwide — a figure that rises to 253 million people when factoring in the visually impaired. Conditions include glaucoma, retinal degeneration and diabetic retinopathy, among others.
In addition to helping visually impaired people, the feature can also benefit as the option of having a more screen-free experience during a walking trip.
The blog post says the improved guidance is now available on iOS and Android, but only in English in the US and Japanese in Japan, at the moment. If you want to use it, you can turn it on in Google Maps’ settings menu. The company says support for more languages and countries are “on the way.”