TouchOver Map

Touch-screens and interactive maps are two things which are common-place nowadays. We find both in modern smartphones and location-based services. In the HaptiMap Project (FP7-ICT-224675), we aim at making maps and location-based services accessible. Thus, my colleagues Benjamin Poppinga, Charlotte Magnusson, Kirsten Rassmus-Gröhn, and me investigated, how to make maps on touch screens accessible for visually impaired users.

We developed TouchOver Map, a simple prototype aimed at investigating the feasibility of speech and vibration feedback. It allows to non-visually explore a map – currently the street network to be exact. Our approach is dead simple: as long as the user touches a street the phone vibrates and the street name is spoken.

To evaluate how well people can understand street layouts with TouchOver Map, we conducted a user study. Eight sighted participants explored the map while the device was covered by an empty box.

While the participants explored the map, they were asked to reproduce it on a piece of paper. Although the results are far from perfect, the participants were able to reproduce the streets and their relationships.

Obviously, our study has a number of limitations. There were only a few testers and none of them was blind. The TouchOver Maps also only displayed streets but no other geographic features. Finally, the non-visual rendering could clearly benefit from fine-tuning and clever filtering of features to display. Nevertheless, out pilot study shows that it is possible to convey geographical features via touch screen devices by making them “visible” through speech and vibration.

The TouchOver Map is a collaboration of Certec, the Division of Rehabilitation Engineering Research in the Department of Design Sciences, Faculty of Engineering, Lund University and the Intelligent User Interfaces Group of the OFFIS Institute for Information Technology, Oldenburg, Germany. It was published as a Works-in-Progress at the 13th International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services (MobileHCI ’11).

The paper can be downloaded from here.

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