Exploring Virtual and Mixed Reality Environments as Mobility Assistance for People with Visual Impairments

One of the main focuses for the Realities Lab is how the emerging fields of Virtual and Augmented Reality can be used to assist people with disabilities. This is the fourth post in a series on the research conducted in this area.

A common training approach to assist persons with visual impairments to gain autonomous mobility in unfamiliar locations is for a professional mobility trainer to repeatedly walk a path with them until they memorize the path. However, these repetitive training sessions are time-consuming and may need to be restarted if environmental conditions change, such as additional furniture in the space or remodeled rooms. This paper explores the feasibility of using generalized Virtual Reality technology (conveyed by auditory feedback) to assist users with real-time navigation and route recall. Using an experimental system, participants navigated both purely virtual and mixed reality locations during initial testing with a follow-up session to study path retention. Metrics collected on user performance and confidence during the sessions suggest the potential of virtual reality based guidance systems for aiding individuals with visual impairments.

Full paper available upon request.