• October 22, 2009

Hail a Satellite - GPS the Future of Independent Travel
“Hail A Satellite” a workshop for high school students and adults with visual impairments and blindness and orientation and mobility instructors was hosted in Vancouver on October 22nd, 2009 by SET-BC, PRCVI and the Seeing Eye.

For the past three years PRCVI and SET-BC have sponsored a GPS Project to examine the impact of a GPS technology on the orientation and mobility of 12 secondary students with visual impairments. Trekker, a hand-held accessible PDA-based GPS technology, was initially selected for this project. Surveys and interviews were completed by both students who participated in the GPS project and their orientation and mobility instructors. This project is one of the first of its kind with school-aged students. The project has proven to be well received with significant benefits in travel orientation, self confidence and independence. Currently the project has been expanded to include the Trekker Breeze GPS system and new students, including those in intermediate grades, are being admitted.

The “Hail a Satellite” workshop provided an opportunity for students and adults to get the facts and hands on experiences with a variety of GPS systems and/or guide dogs. Presenters included Jay Stiteley, Lukas Franck, Scott Hewson and Erin Spada from The Seeing Eye, Gil Lutz from Sendero Group and Patrick McCarthy from HumanWare. Teachers, students, adults and other interested members of the BC vision community walked various routes using a GPS, guide dogs and personal travel skills.

Advances in technology continue to result in GPS devices that are smaller, more reliable and far more user friendly than that of previous generations. Nevertheless the need for good, basic O&M skills is essential to using this new tool. Signal strength can vary and physical barriers like tall buildings can cause signal or misinformation difficulties.

Trust in ones guide dog was demonstrated when crossing parkade entrances, drop-offs and road closure/detours. Emphasis was placed on differentiating between the specific responsibilities of the blind person and the guide dog. Students and adults indicated that as a result of this workshop they were much better equipped to make informed decisions on the skills and tools necessary to meet their future individual needs for independent travel.

PRCVI and SET-BC gratefully acknowledges the support of The Seeing Eye, The Sendero Group, HumanWare and The John and Margaret Post Foundation in making this workshop possible.