VoiceVista for Leisure Activities

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Incorporating Orientation and Mobility (O&M) technology in leisure activities can benefit students who are blind or low vision. It is the best of both worlds; the student integrates O&M concepts in an enjoyable activity. An excellent tool is found in an iPhone, which has the integrated VoiceOver screen reader in combination with an app that uses Global Positioning System (GPS) technology. VoiceVista is a free application designed by Microsoft. It provides information about the surroundings—a user’s current location and what is around and ahead of them. Also, the traveler can even add a reference point as a landmark for orientation purposes. Additionally, the app has an audible beacon that will guide the user by sounding louder as they reach their destination.

I had the opportunity to try the VoiceVista app while kayaking. Why did I use it when kayaking?  Nothing is controlled in the lagoon; you can row all you want, make any number of turns, and not know what is to your right or left. At the lagoon, no specific landmarks can help one’s orientation when blind or low vision. For this reason, one can orientate by listening to the information the VoiceVista app provides.     

For example, at the Laguna of Condado in San Juan, Puerto Rico, four street names will help in orientation. The Ashford avenue, express 26 Roman Baldorioty de Castro, the Los Hermanos bridge, and Mayagüez Street. These streets provide orientation information depending on where one is facing.

“Let’s Find the Treasure”    
“Let’s find the treasure” is a game idea that can be led by Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments (TVIs), Orientation and Mobility Specialists (OMS), and/or parents. This activity puts into practice O&M concepts essential for traveling efficiently and independently and uses VoiceVista. You can opt to kayak or travel by foot in an unfamiliar area, set markers with VoiceVista, and re-find the markers as a “treasure hunt.”

Game Steps

  1. Orient yourself. Select the VoiceVista “Current location” option. Or select the “My location” option at the bottom left. Additionally, the “Around me” option provides the user with surrounding street names and if they are at in front of you, behind you, etc. The teacher, parent, or company can ask the student, “Where are we?” or “What’s around us?”; the student can utilize VoiceVista to understand their surroundings, orient, and create a mental map.
  2. Then, set the first “marker”; this will be the starting point. To save the marker, let the student choose a name and write any annotation. For example, they could add “Starting point” in annotations “leaving the pier.” One more time, the student can select the “around me” option to know which street is behind or in front of them.
  3. Add two “markers” when rowing or walking. After this, the student can start to find the treasure. Travel from one marker to another, following the audible beacon sound during the route until they reach their destination, the “treasure.” Also, during this search, the student can practice compass directions and estimate the distance from one point to another.      

    This is an example of how a simple activity can motivate a student to put into practice Orientation and Mobility concepts while having fun. More importantly, they can incorporate the experience of games into their daily life when they are moving around an unfamiliar environment. The goal of this game is to promote skills of orientation that could make them feel secure when facing a new environment outdoors.           

Orientation and Mobility Concepts

The treasure hunt promotes the following concepts:

  1. Directional concepts such as left, right, forward, and backward.
  2. Spatial and body concepts such as the relation of “object to object” (known as allocentric) and “body to object” (known as egocentric)
  3. Spatial updating enables one to keep track of the environment while moving. These concepts allow students to create a cognitive map of their environment and how it changes when moving or changing directions.          
  4. Problem-solving skills.
  5. Formulating specific questions when trying to re-establish a desired direction of travel.  For example, when asking someone for help orienting, ask, “Is the schoolyard at my left?” Instead of “Is the schoolyard at the left?”

List of Additional Recommended Apps for O&M

In addition to the VoiceVista app, there are other orientation apps a student could use in their daily life when moving around their environment.

(Android and iPhone)
Free app         

Google Maps 
(Android and iPhone)
Free app         

Paid app         

Editor’s note: The author originally wrote about the Microsoft Soundscape app, but Soundscape has been discontinued. The VoiceVista app is based on Soundscape.