Virtual environment navigation with look-around mode to explore new real spaces by people who are blind

Orly Lahav*, Hadas Gedalevitz, Steven Battersby, David Brown, Lindsay Evett, Patrick Merritt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: This paper examines the ability of people who are blind to construct a mental map and perform orientation tasks in real space by using Nintendo Wii technologies to explore virtual environments. The participant explores new spaces through haptic and auditory feedback triggered by pointing or walking in the virtual environments and later constructs a mental map, which can be used to navigate in real space. Methods: The study included 10 participants who were congenitally or adventitiously blind, divided into experimental and control groups. The research was implemented by using virtual environments exploration and orientation tasks in real spaces, using both qualitative and quantitative methods in its methodology. Results: The results show that the mode of exploration afforded to the experimental group is radically new in orientation and mobility training; as a result 60% of the experimental participants constructed mental maps that were based on map model, compared with only 30% of the control group participants. Conclusions: Using technology that enabled them to explore and to collect spatial information in a way that does not exist in real space influenced the ability of the experimental group to construct a mental map based on the map model. Implications for rehabilitation The virtual cane system for the first time enables people who are blind to explore and collect spatial information via the look-around mode in addition to the walk-around mode. People who are blind prefer to use look-around mode to explore new spaces, as opposed to the walking mode. Although the look-around mode requires users to establish a complex collecting and processing procedure for the spatial data, people who are blind using this mode are able to construct a mental map as a map model. For people who are blind (as for the sighted) construction of a mental map based on map model offers more flexibility in choosing a walking path in a real space, accounting for changes that occur in the space.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1072-1084
Number of pages13
JournalDisability and Rehabilitation
Issue number9
StatePublished - 24 Apr 2018


  • Orientation and mobility
  • blind
  • mental map
  • multimodal interaction
  • virtual environment


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