Visually impaired people face unique challenges navigating in unfamiliar public locations. Twenty-five percent of the visually impaired people travel through public locations without assistance other than a walking stick1. A visually impaired person can obtain a sense of where they are based on their proximity to walls, doors, and other obstacles through the use of a walking stick. While this can help navigate to a destination, this can lead to longer routes and wasted time. Using a walking stick relies on trial and error, particularly in unfamiliar locations. Current navigation tools for the visually impaired focus on travelling from one location to another.

This project focuses on designing a device for visually impaired people that is comfortable to use and can help with travelling independently. This project’s solution is a checkpoint system for the visually impaired that seamlessly integrates into a blind persons’ walking stick and can be installed into public building infrastructure without major upkeep. The results from user testing indicated this device succeeded in helping users navigate to their destinations.

This project developed an indoor navigation system to improve travel within public locations such as train stations and shopping malls for visually impaired people. The system helps users to determine the quickest route to a specified destination from their current location. The hardware consists of a RFID receiver embedded into a walking stick. A MYSQL database was configured to associate RFID tag identification codes with location names. A software suite was written in Java to perform route calculations using the identification code passed from the receiver.

The pre-survey, administered to visually impaired individuals, aimed to understand their current behaviors in public spaces. The results lead to the conclusion that visually impaired users that relied solely on a walking stick for navigation travelled to unfamiliar public spaces about once or twice a month. Half of the users surveyed rated their level of comfort when travelling alone as “slightly uncomfortable”, while the other half rated their level of comfort as “slightly comfortable.”

Based on the results from this project, we recommend the use of passive RFID receivers in conjunction with antenna-embedded tags placed into the floors of public buildings. The receivers and tags should optimally have a detection range of at least one foot in order for the visually impaired to successfully utilize the navigational system.

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