Google introduces voice guidance to Maps for people with impaired vision

11 Oct 2019

Google's office in Tokyo, Japan. Image: Google

On World Sight Day, Google rolled out more detailed voice guidance features in its Maps apps.

On Thursday (10 October), which was World Sight Day, Google introduced a new voice guidance feature for its Maps app.

In a blogpost, Google business analyst Wakana Sugiyama said that this feature makes the app more accessible to the 36m people who are blind worldwide, as well as the 217m people who have moderate to severe vision impairments.

Sugiyama, who is a legally blind woman living in Tokyo, said that the app is particularly useful for individuals taking journeys that they are not familiar with.

“I can easily commute from my front door to my desk at work; it’s a trip I take regularly and know well. But going some place new and unfamiliar can be an intimidating experience without sight to guide you,” she said.

“In some cases, I’ll have a friend to join me on a trip, but in others I may decide not to take the journey at all.”

‘Fill some of the gaps’

The new feature for Google Maps will provide users with the ability to receive more detailed voice guidance and new types of verbal announcements for walking trips. The company said that it is the first feature in Google Maps that has been built from the ground up by and for individuals with impaired vision.

Sugiyama explained: “With this feature, I can navigate the streets of Tokyo with more comfort and confidence.

“As I take my journey, Google Maps proactively lets me know that I’m on the correct route, the distance until my next turn and the direction I’m walking in. As I approach large intersections, I’ll get a heads-up to cross with added caution. And if I accidentally leave my route, I’ll get a spoken notification that I’m being rerouted.”

With the announcement, Google shared a video of Sugiyama demonstrating the new features. The business analyst compared the additional voice guidance to the notifications she hears on public transport.

“It fills some of the gaps experienced with not knowing the surroundings, and also focuses on segments that I might find particularly challenging, such as larger intersections.

“Having this additional information to fill in the gaps makes me feel more confident. I can relatively focus more on what I’ll do in my final destination.”

Detailed voice guidance for walking navigation is now available on both the Android and iOS app. It is currently only available in English in the US and Japanese in Japan, but the company said that support for additional languages and countries is on the way.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic