Chapter Nine: Research: Who's Doing What and Where

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In this section, we map the people and institutions concentrating on research relevant to the profession of orientation and mobility. If you know about other systems or want to comment or elaborate, please e-mail me at the address provided below (Thank you!).

Thanks to the NEC Foundation of America, we are developing a wayfinding textbook on this website. The "textbook" is under development, but it is currently more comprehensive than this page, although this file contains links not found on the textbook.

Links go out of date quickly. We work to stay on top of changes, but inevitably links fail, and for a while go unattended. Please let us know when a link does not work. Also, if you know of additional links that are relevant, please convey this information so we can add them to our page (Thanks!).

If you are working on systems that might benefit blind travelers, please check out Tips for Inventors.

For a consumer's viewpoint about electronic navigational technologies for the blind, see the comments of Andrew Downie.

For a list of linkcurrently available navigation technologies with addresses see the webpage created by Duen Hsi Yen. For a comprehensive discussion of navigational aids for blind travelers see the report by the Committee on Vision of the National Research Council located on the Duen Hsi Yen website. The NRC report is somewhat dated, but it contains valuable conceptual material.

In the United States, the leading governmental authority on navigation technologies is located at the Veterans Administration Center in Atlanta, Georgia. The director of the Vision Research Program is Dr Bruce Blasch.

In September, 1999 A technology subcommittee of the National Science Foundation in the United States held a conference on the state of navigational technologies for the blind. A draft of the proceedings can be reviewed on the linkNSF website.

The Institute for Innovative Blind Navigation maintains a listserve for inventors in cooperation with Michigan State University.

The demographics of blindness are complex, but they need to be understood if we are to intelligently address the navigational needs of the blind population.

A thesis titled Standardizing Electronic Travel Aid Interactionfor Visually Impaired People, by S. Harper at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST), 1998 addresses the question whether a universal computer interface for navigation technologies is "needed, possible, logical, and novel".

This page is a summary of research efforts (at various stages of development) addressing navigation technologies with potential to help blind individuals move comfortably and safely through space. New inventors joining the listserve are referred to this page to bring them up-to-date on what others are doing.


The future of navigation aids for individuals who are blind or visually impaired is very encouraging. Technology is rapidly developing in the areas outlined below. We can't see the details, but some general trends are clear. The future will provide us with smaller, cheaper, and ever more powerful tools. These tools will be prescribed so that they fit the unique needs of individuals (call them "navigation appliances"). The features provided by the navigation appliances will be rich or sparse depending on the desires and needs of the user. Speech recognition and expression will be a common feature, as will global positioning options, and full time connection to specialized networks (the internet for sure and perhaps to a specific "blindness support network.") Prescribable appliances will include a combination of the technologies discussed below.

Another trend is quite plain. Navigation technologies for blind individuals will be add on options to electronic appliances designed for the sighted population. In other words, the mass market will create small, inexpensive electronic appliances that are so powerful they will have excess capacity to provide for adaptations for the blind traveler. If we follow the rapid evolution of any of the communications devices designed for the blind, we can see this trend play out. Talking calculators cost hundreds of dollars when they were being manufactured purely for the blind population. When Sharp came out with a mass market calculator that could talk (as a novelty), the price dropped to less than a hundred dollars. The same thing happened with talking watches and the talking compass. The same pattern will evolve with navigation tools. Global positioning systems are already inexpensive and available in new cars and to weekend sailors. This technology will already be small and cheap when it becomes integrated in blind travel aids.

Navigational technologies for the blind or visually impaired

Global Positioning Systems

Wearable Computers


Signage and Mapping Technology

Vision Substitution Systems

Obstacle Detection and Avoidance Systems; Robotics

Vision Enhancement Systems

Optical Recognition in Real Time

Computer Networks

Vision Research

Biotechnology and Genetics



Below: Ebooks
IIBN Site Index - Teaching O&M to Blind Children - Teaching Students with Travel Disabilities - Wayfinding Technologies