Abstract

Learning an environment can be challenging for people with visual impairments. Braille maps allow their users to understand the spatial relationship between a set of places. However, physical Braille maps are often costly, may not always cover an area of interest with sufficient detail, and might not present up-to-date information. We built a handheld system for representing geographical information called SpaceSense, which includes custom spatial tactile feedback hardware—multiple vibration motors attached to different locations on a mobile touch-screen device. It offers high-level information about the distance and direction towards a destination and bookmarked places through vibrotactile feedback to help the user maintain the spatial relationships between these points. SpaceSense also adapts a summarization technique for online user reviews of public and commercial venues. Our user study shows that participants could build and maintain the spatial relationships between places on a map more accurately with SpaceSense compared to a system without spatial tactile feedback. They pointed specifically to having spatial tactile feedback as the contributing factor in successfully building and maintaining their mental map.