Spatial Auditory Maps for Blind Travellers
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Empirical research shows that blind persons who have the ability and opportunity to access geographic map information tactually, benefit in their mobility. Unfortunately, tangible maps are not found in large numbers. Economics is the leading explanation: tangible maps are expensive to build, duplicate and distribute. SAM, short for Spatial Auditory Map, is a prototype created to address the unavail- ability of tangible maps. SAM presents geographic information to a blind person encoded in sound. A blind person receives maps electronically and accesses them using a small in- expensive digitalizing tablet connected to a PC. The interface provides location-dependent sound as a stylus is manipulated by the user, plus a schematic visual representation for users with residual vision. The assessment of SAM on a group of blind participants suggests that blind users can learn unknown environments as complex as the ones represented by tactile maps - in the same amount of reading time. This research opens new avenues in visualization techniques, promotes alternative communication methods, and proposes a human-computer interaction framework for conveying map information to a blind person.