From the newsletter of our friends at ICEVI-Europe: Using Vitual Reality to support Orientation and Mobility Instruction

Timo Repo and Outi Lappalainen, Valteri Centre Finland

Virtual Reality (VR) is changing the ways people play games, watch videos and use software. Visually impaired people can use virtual reality products even if they have a severe vision loss. Our students have used VR technology to visit interesting sites on Google earth, land on the moon and of course play games! At the moment we are testing the effectiveness of using a 360°video recordings in helping individuals with visual impairment to learn new travel routes.

Orientation and mobility in virtual reality

When learning new routes, people who are visually impaired need a lot of repetition so that the details of each route can be safely memorized. Tackling a new route for the first time on your own after your Orientation and Mobility training can be exciting but scary, but opportunities to experience the journey through VR -goggles can help relieve the travelers’ anxiety and build up their confidence.

After a few orientation and mobility sessions, the traveler can watch the VR- video at home or in some other safe environment. The traveler practices and memorizes the route as many times as needed and without time limitations to become confident about the twists and turns of the route. The video can be paused at any location and travelers can explore particular landmarks, turns and details at their leisure.

When the traveler feels confident enough, the route can be practiced for real. After the session the orientation and mobility instructor can assess the benefits of the video and suggest areas that should be studied more.

Any everyday route can be filmed. It can be a route to work, school, interest groups or even the local convenience store. The video can be filmed by the orientation and mobility instructor, a relative or by the travelers themselves with a 360°camera. The video can be watched from a computer, a tablet, a smartphone or from VR- goggles. The benefits of watching the video from VR-goggles is that the video is seen right in front of the viewer’s eyes, which helps people even with relatively low visual acuity to see the details (one individual had 0,01 visual acuity). It is also easier to focus on the video, because the goggles block everything else from the user’s view and help you immerse yourself in the task at hand.

What you need in making the videos:

A 360 camera

VR- goggles. The goggles don’t need to be expensive ones. For example goggles which have a head mount for a smartphone (google cardboard etc.) can be used. Just make sure the lenses are good.

A computer and a software that can convert the filmed video to 360 form.

Feel free to send questions about this article.

Timo Repo, Outi Lappalainen

IT device specialist Orientation and mobility specialists, Valteri Centre for learning and consulting, Finland.