Traveling: More than a Sensory Experience

Although people who are blind experience life the same way as everyone else, we often have techniques and gadgets that help us do things more efficiently. This blog entry will focus on just one aspect of life, travel, and some tips, techniques, and devices that make it easier for those of us who are blind or visually impaired. Whether it is appreciating the sensory aspects of a city, or using the latest accessible GPS app, the blind find ways to enjoy traveling as much as people who are sighted.

People who are blind can take advantage of their traveling experience by locating activities featuring sensory aspects. Consider a variety of restaurants with foods you like or wish to try; you can even find establishments that specialize in local cuisine to enhance your voyage. Another option would be to visit botanical gardens or any other site which involves the sense of smell. If you are interested in something more tactile, call well in advance of your trip to reserve a tour of local touch collections at museums.

Technology can play an essential role in your trip if you are blind. While this element is not required to travel, using technology has many advantages. Nowadays people who are blind or visually impaired can use technology to navigate which provides a sense of independence and tranquility by knowing exactly where you are at all times.

Here are some handy devices which you might try out for your next trip:

Sendero GPS is software found in many blindness specific products, but they also make applications for some mainstream mobile devices. It is important to remember that, while having a specialized device offers more features specific to the needs of blind and low vision users, the cost of such devices are typically much more than that of mainstream products. Keep this in mind when deciding what product and/or software is best for you.

Although it is very expensive for what it does, especially for people on a fixed income, the Trekker Breeze is a great handheld GPS option for the visually impaired. Not only will you be able to save battery life on your smartphone, it should work in other countries, even if cellular service is unavailable or too expensive.

Already have an iOS or Android based smartphone? There are some great applications to choose from that should save you a great deal of money, even those that are subscription-based.

Although it isn’t as feature-rich as other GPS applications, Blindsquare is a great, inexpensive GPS option for the iPhone. This app uses location information from foursquare to help point you in the right direction, so the data may not be entirely correct. However, it is good enough to get you in the general vicinity of what you’re looking for. A plus to the information being provided by foursquare data is that the chances of what your looking for not being in the database is very low compared to other GPS services.

Ariadne GPS is another inexpensive GPS app for the iPhone. It doesn’t do some of the things a subscription based service would do, but it is great if you need to create your own routes or monitor where and how fast you are going.
Yet another inexpensive GPS app, which also means it is light on features, is Sendero GPS Look Around. The purpose of this app is to simply give you information about nearby points of interest, which makes it a great option if that’s all you need.

Sendero also has a full-featured GPS app that is relatively new. It is a subscription based app, but it is a great option if you need all the features a, more expensive, standalone GPS unit would provide. This app is Sendero’s Seeing-Eye GPS app.

A great, and free, mainstream GPS application for the iPhone is MapQuest. It features everything you’d find in a more expensive application or standalone unit, and it is completely free! You don’t have to pay for the application and there is no subscription fee. This means, however, that things may be a little more difficult to figure out at times, because this app was not developed specifically for blind people. If you pair this app with one of the cheaper alternatives for the iPhone, you’ll have a fantastic GPS solution.

Lastly, let’s not forget about Maps on the iPhone itself. If your device has Siri, you can simply say “Take me to [address], and it will enter all the information for you, as well as provide spoken turn-by-turn navigation. However, MapQuest may be a better alternative if you don’t have Siri, but that’s for you to decide!

If you’re using an Android device, you have far fewer options than iPhone users, but you can check out Google Maps, but honestly, we aren’t sure how accessible, if at all, Google Maps is for blind and low vision users.

However, we have heard a lot of great things about Nearby Explorer, so we definitely think you should check it out!

In addition to a GPS app, we also recommend using a money recognizer. Chances are, you’ll have to use cash while your traveling, and it is extremely important that you be able to manage your money independently. For this purpose, we really like Looktel Money Reader.

Other apps such as 4Square and Yelp are useful to locate restaurants, shops, museums or any venues in a town that you are visiting.

Do your research ahead of time! This includes planning your trip, finding accessible destinations, and calling ahead for reservations at restaurants. Think about investigating interesting libraries, buildings, parks, and museums offering Braille, touch tours, or audio guides. The importance of internet research before traveling can not be underestimated. Whether it is accessibility, finding locations with Braille, or just reading about other’s experiences, the internet can offer a plethora of information.

There is an art to navigating airports and train stations. Remember to always call ahead to register as a passenger who needs extra assistance, and never be afraid to ask questions. Consider leaving extra time when traveling. A recent trip to Penn Station in New York City illuminated the various problems for someone who is blind: complicated layout, many people didn’t stop to answer questions, and the whole system felt like a maze. Overall, if you do your research and ask for services, traveling through airports and train stations might be frustrating, but it will be no different than the experience of someone who is sighted.

Another great option for traveling is Traveleyes. If you have never heard of them, think about the following: Traveleyes is one of the world’s first companies specializing in opening access to independent world travel for blind and partially sighted people. They were founded by a visually impaired person, and most tours are also lead by visually impaired people! Traveleyes offers a broad range of unique multi-sensory holiday vacations to suit all tastes. Their objective is to provide passengers who have a visual impairment with the same freedom of choice and ease of booking that sighted travelers have always enjoyed. Every Traveleyes holiday vacation features equal numbers of blind and sighted participants, some travelling solo, some with a partner, and some as groups of friends. Whichever of these describes you, they offer the ultimate group travel experience where sociability, flexibility and choice.

If you take one thing away from this article, it is that traveling independently can be very empowering and people who are blind can have the same great experience as their sighted peers. Whether you take advantage of sensory aspects, accessibility, technological advances, or a company such as Traveleyes, the sky really is the limit!

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