Background – our motivation for ways2see
Everybody knows the problem: you are in an unknown environment and you would urgently need a certain institution, let’s say a pharmacy. But you do not know the exact location of the closest facility and additionally, you do not know how to get there. Consequently, you have several options for solving this problem. You could either, ask somebody for the shortest way, search in the telephone book or on the Internet for the right address or use an online system like Google Maps to find the exact place. Often you could also use the help of a navigation system, describing the way to get to the pharmacy. However, this is how the world looks like for people without visual impairment.
With visual impairment, on the other hand, the choice of options may be significantly different. Of course, a route description by friends or relatives is usually a good possibility. Still, what to do when nobody can spare time to help? There is of course the alternative option of using information from the web or a regular navigation system. Nevertheless, all these approaches fail because they are not fulfilling the requirements of people with visual impairment or blindness. In many cases, it would be too complex, too stressful or even too dangerous to use these systems. Ultimately, there is a need for a specific information platform, designed for the specific requirements of people with visual impairment or blindness, including very exact information about dangerous obstacles and barriers as well as information about the surface of sidewalks or the specifics of street crossings.
Such an Internet platform is currently being developed under the name of ‘ways2see’, targeting exactly these aspects. Professor Susanne Zimmermann-Janschitz, Department of Geography and Regional Science, University of Graz, is the scientific leader of the project, with the Odilien-Institute, the – Society for People with Visual Impairment or Blindness, Graz, and SynerGIS Information Systems Inc., Vienna, as cooperation partners. The Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG) is funding this project.