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Established: March 1, 2015

Annotating and Sharing Markers with Family and Friends through Microsoft Soundscape

May 13, 2020

With the COVID-19 situation continuing, we continue to see challenges with in-person support that in regular times would be provided by a sighted guide or a Mobility Instructor. Yet the need to get groceries, head to the pharmacy, and to just get outdoors for some fresh air and exercise remains as important as ever.

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This latest update of Soundscape is designed to help with the following:

  • Provide access to helpful tools and resources for using Soundscape in the current climate, for our users, including Mobility Instructors and the broader community
  • Enable you to annotate, or describe in greater detail, Markers on your route to help you remember what to do at each stage of your journey. These annotations can be created by you, by a Mobility Instructor, or by a family member or friend
  • Markers you create can now be shared with others; for example, you can send a Marker to another Soundscape user, or a Mobility Instructor or friend can send you Markers they have annotated for your route
  • We also added a new filter for “Essential Services” so that you can quickly and easily find nearby grocery stores, pharmacies, and medical services

We hope that you will enjoy using these new features and the experiences they enable; we’re confident they will also help develop a few new skills along the way too.

Screenshot of a Marker’s details page. The Marker is for ‘Hamilton road bus stop’ and the annotation reads “covered bus stop with seating”. There is the option to share this Marker, or to Set and Audio Beacon on it

To illustrate how these capabilities can help you, we will look at how they enhance the experiences discussed in our earlier blog posts designed to keep our users updated, engaged and informed during these unprecedented times. (And don’t worry if you haven’t had a chance to read them all yet, as we’ve included them for reference at the end of this article.)

Annotating Markers

We introduced Markers a little while ago; they allow you to quickly and easily mark-up anything in your surroundings that you care about. That could be, for example, your front door or the post box at the top of your street, or you can mark-up key landmarks in your area to help with learning a route, such as entrances to buildings, the bench in your local park, or even your favourite café or grocery store. Think of Markers as your list of favorite and important places which you can create for anything in your environment. This is a wonderful way for you to personalize the areas you walk in and build up confidence to go beyond what you are familiar with, always knowing that you have your Markers for orientation.

Now, when you create a Marker, you can also include a short descriptive text which will be part of the call-out when you hear the Marker. This will be particularly useful to you when you are out and about; equally, it opens a whole new world of possibilities, for example,

  • You can now get richer and more contextually relevant information about a Marker when you hear it called out; this will help make your experience more meaningful and feel more reassuring.
  • In the grocery blog, Steven’s wife will now be able to add something like “When you get to this intersection on your way to the shop, turn left on to Main Street.” This will make the journey less stressful for both Steven and his wife. Also, Steven will now be able to locate the grocery store, or any other essential service, by using the Essential Services filter. (see Hints and tips below)
  • In the exercising at the park activity, Amos and his wife will now be able to provide clues to each other through the annotations they create on the Markers, and have a lot more fun with their ‘scavenger hunt.’
  • In the getting daily exercise blog about taking a walk in an urban space, a Soundscape user could create Markers with annotations for how long it should approximately take to get from one point to another while providing helpful hints along the way (e.g. passing a fresh flower stall on the way where you can expect to smell the flowers as you approach them).

Screenshot of the creating a Marker page showing that there is now an annotation field along with the Name and Address fields

Sharing Markers

Soundscape now allows you to share a Marker, and its annotation, with anyone you know. We are excited about this new capability, as it will allow you to connect with others by sharing your favourite locations and places in a useful and helpful way.

The following provide some excellent examples in which Markers can be shared in a simple and straightforward way, making things a little easier each time you go out.

  • You can now easily share a Marker with a friend for something like a grocery store to help them find a store to get all their supplies
  • Steven’s wife is now able to send a Marker to him for the intersection she recommended he went by
  • Soundscape now allows Amos and his wife to exchange Markers of different places for each other to find (they could even turn this into a fun game, like a scavenger hunt!)
  • Easy to imagine that friends could send each other unnamed Markers and have fun guessing what place it refers to based on direction, distance, and the annotation!
  • Mobility Instructors are now able to send Markers to their clients on the routes they were working on, which will be important in helping maintain these important working relationships

We look forward to your comments and feedback on these new capabilities, and on how we can continue to make a difference for, and in, the community. We can be reached via email or on our Soundscape Community Group page on Facebook.

Stay well and stay safe,
Amos and the Soundscape team

Supporting links

Hints and tips

Essential Services

There is a new option for ‘Essential Services’ under the ‘Explore Nearby’ heading when you select either Set a Beacon or add new Marker. When you select this option, you will get a list of places such as grocery stores, chemists and doctor surgeries.

You can also get to this list by selecting ‘All Places’, then ‘Set a Filter’ and choosing ‘essential services’ from the list of categories that pops up.

Marker annotations

You can add an annotation to a Marker when you first create it, or you can edit an existing Marker to add an annotation. When editing or creating a Marker, there is now an annotation text field underneath the name and address fields.

This annotation will be called out after a Marker has been announced. This could be when you approach it, or when you select one of ‘Ahead of Me’, ‘Nearby Markers’ or ‘Ahead of Me’ on the Soundscape home screen and you are close enough to the Marker for it to be called out.

Sharing Markers

To share a Marker, select ‘Manage Markers’ from the menu in Soundscape, then select the Marker than you would like to share. When you select the Marker, you will be taken to the Marker’s ‘Details’ page, where you can select the ‘Share’ button to share the Marker.

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