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Google Maps expands voice guidance for blind and partially sighted users

In honor of World Sight Day, Google Maps has introduced a new feature for blind or partially sighted people. Maps will now offer more detailed voice guidance and verbal announcements to make navigating with limited vision easier and safer.

“As a legally blind woman living in Tokyo, I know that getting around unfamiliar environments can be a challenge,” Google’s Wakana Sugiyama wrote in a blog post. “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 someplace new and unfamiliar can be an intimidating experience without sight to guide you.”

The new feature helps people like Sugiyama by letting them know they are on the correct route and warning them in advance when a turn is coming up. Maps will also warn users when they are approaching a large and potentially dangerous intersection and will alert them if they deviate from the expected route.

(Versions of this video with full audio descriptions for people with vision impairments are also available in English and Japanese.)

Sugiyama worked with the Maps team to advise on the feature and to test early versions of it. She says it is the first feature in Maps “to be built from the ground up by, and for, people with vision impairments.”

The new feature began rolling out in Maps this week, starting on Android and iOS. It is currently only available in English in the U.S. and in Japanese in Japan, although Google says it plans to add support for more languages and more countries in the future.

You can enable the feature by going to the settings options in your Google Maps app, choosing Navigation, finding the Walking options header, and enabling the Detailed voice guidance option.

Google also rolled out another feature for users with vision impairments this week, introducing an automated image descriptions feature for Chrome. The feature uses machine learning to describe what an image depicts, with this information conveyed to the user via a screen reader or Braille display. This should help users to experience more of the internet, given the large portion of online content which is visual in nature.

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