Beyond the Cane: Describing Urban Scenes to Blind People for Mobility Tasks. ACM Trans Access Comput 2022;15(3)Abstract.
Blind people face difficulties with independent mobility, impacting employment prospects, social inclusion, and quality of life. Given the advancements in computer vision, with more efficient and effective automated information extraction from visual scenes, it is important to determine what information is worth conveying to blind travelers, especially since people have a limited capacity to receive and process sensory information. We aimed to investigate which objects in a street scene are useful to describe and how those objects should be described. Thirteen cane-using participants, five of whom were early blind, took part in two urban walking experiments. In the first experiment, participants were asked to voice their information needs in the form of questions to the experimenter. In the second experiment, participants were asked to score scene descriptions and navigation instructions, provided by the experimenter, in terms of their usefulness. The descriptions included a variety of objects with various annotations per object. Additionally, we asked participants to rank order the objects and the different descriptions per object in terms of priority and explain why the provided information is or is not useful to them. The results reveal differences between early and late blind participants. Late blind participants requested information more frequently and prioritized information about objects' locations. Our results illustrate how different factors, such as the level of detail, relative position, and what type of information is provided when describing an object, affected the usefulness of scene descriptions. Participants explained how they (indirectly) used information, but they were frequently unable to explain their ratings. The results distinguish between various types of travel information, underscore the importance of featuring these types at multiple levels of abstraction, and highlight gaps in current understanding of travel information needs. Elucidating the information needs of blind travelers is critical for the development of more useful assistive technologies.