Wayfinding and accessibility for visually impaired people. Opportunities and challenges


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Title Wayfinding and accessibility for visually impaired people. Opportunities and challenges
Period 09 / 2006 - 10 / 2012
Status Completed
Dissertation Yes
Research number OND1327722
Data Supplier Website BCN


This project is a combination of two related projects. Whereas the first project is concerned with the facilitation of wayfinding for visually impaired persons in public buildings, the second project deals with the question of accessibility of outdoor public spaces for this group. The general aim of the first project is to assist visually impaired persons in finding the way to their destination in a public building by means of spoken route information. For this purpose we developed the Groningen Indoor Route Information System (GIRIS) in the University Medical Centre Groningen. This indoor navigation system can optionally deliver route- information (direction instructions), landmark information (information about the environment), or a combination of both types of information. Research questions are related to the efficiency of the system in increasing the mobility of the visually impaired person in a public building, the optimization of the auditory messages, and to the nature of the cognitive representations that the users form on the basis of different types of auditory messages. Experiments were conducted in which visually impaired subjects walked several different routes with and without the information delivered by the system. Measurements concerned their wayfinding performance and the ability to build up a mental representation of the routes. The second project is related to Shared Space , a new concept for the design of the public realm that is increasingly applied in Western countries. In Shared Space, traffic lights, curbs and crossings are usually absent and pedestrians share the street with bicycles and cars. The behaviour of road users is mainly determined by social relations and not exclusively by conventional traffic regulations. For visually impaired people the required visual human interaction is difficult or impossible, and the lack of conventional infrastructure might lead to problems with orientation and navigation. Therefore, the Shared Space concept is a potential disadvantage, if not a danger, for this specific group. The aim of this project is to provide an objective overview of the problems that this group encounters in Shared Space. Common characteristics of Shared Spaces are assessed and judged on possible problems for the accessibility for visually impaired persons. Visually impaired persons are interviewed about their experiences with a Shared Space environment. In a field study, visually impaired participants perform tasks in two Shared Space environments and in two conventional environments. This project should finally result in recommendations for designers and adapted training methods for Orientation and Mobility Instructors and guide dog trainers.

Abstract (NL)

De inrichting van straten en pleinen volgens het Shared Space concept kan voor blinden en slechtzienden een probleem vormen omdat zij te weinig houvast hebben voor hun oriƫntatie. Onderzoeker Else Havik van het Universitair Medisch Centrum Groningen pleit ervoor om al in de vroege ontwerpfase van Shared Spaces rekening te houden met mensen met een visuele beperking. Het Shared Space-concept wordt in steeds meer steden en dorpen in Nederland toegepast bij de inrichting en het gebruik van straten en pleinen, onder andere in Haarlem, Drachten, Enschede, Tiel en Zwolle. In een Shared Space-gebied ontbreekt vaak een traditionele indeling in rijbanen, fietspaden en trottoirs, en zijn er geen stoplichten en zebrapaden meer. Het ontwerp beoogt dat voetgangers, fietsers en gemotoriseerd verkeer rekening houden met elkaar in een gebied waar iedereen te gast is en niemand de overhand heeft. De zorgen die verschillende belangenorganisaties hebben geuit over de veiligheid van blinden en slechtzienden in Shared Spaces vormden de aanleiding voor het onderzoek van Havik.

Related organisations

Related people

Supervisor Prof.dr. A.C. Kooijman
Co-supervisor Dr. F.J.J.M. Steyvers
Doctoral/PhD student Dr. E.M. Havik


D23230 Neurology, otorhinolaryngology, opthalmology

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