Landmarks when you are offline (or how you navigate in a city or indoors when you donʻt really see)

Landmark.

Ah, such a useful thing when you browse a webpage using a screenreader.

And even more useful thing when you are offline. When you walk – or drive – somewhere.

The weird thing is once you have your landmarks it becomes quite automatic. You just know how to drive there, or how to walk there, and thatʻs it. At least if you constantly use visual landmarks.

But when you canʻt use visual landmarks, or the usability of visuals is not constant, how do you navigate? What kind of landmarks do you use? “There is a piece of blue wall before the school”, “a piece of wall left from the bus stop”, “on the SW corner of that crossing” and so on. How do you navigate… when there is either no visuals, or when you have some usable input?

When you use landmark systems of your own, itʻs really difficult to explain to others how they work. I can walk on a street Iʻve walked on several times but if itʻs a different weather or light, I have no clue I am. I donʻt find the building Iʻm looking for right in front of it. Walk on a road on a wrong side of it and Iʻm lost. If itʻs not sunny or there are no shadows, how do you know what direction is where? When itʻs too cold to use your phone, or too loud to hear VoiceOver on your headphones? All those things have happened. Canʻt hear; too loud. Canʻt see: too cold, not enough this or that (no, canʻt really see the ground. Some lights so you know the direction the roads go is as far as it goes). This is where itʻll get tricky. Donʻt panic. Itʻs ok to get lost. O & M means just knowing how to get lost safely but end up getting where you were going to. Something along those lines. A friend summarized it more elegantly.

The sun is really strong here in the South. On a bright day it is really sunny. In the dark or on a cloudy day not so. It feels a bit odd realizing how much of what you can possibly see depends on other factors – the light, dark, or cloudiness, the temperature, how tired you are overall, how whacked your circadian rhythms are… so on a bright day you can still go walk or run on your own, but at night you only remember where everything you might fall in is located. Like Princess Fiona – on day one way, on night another. Running to me is that day relief – I can run and I donʻt want to explain to anyone how I do it (except itʻs as free of eyes as it can be right now). Night-time – Iʻm not afraid of darkness but I need my own way. Finding my way safely to home, or a bus stop, or getting a safe ride home.

Both day and night-time I rely a lot on maps. Not something where I have to look at a paper because I just canʻt figure out without my phone where I am. I can walk x blocks that way whether itʻs day or night, but I can also walk a few blocks off if I donʻt have a good precise system. It happens all the time. Just practice until itʻs in your muscle memory. I canʻt explain it any better because I donʻt understand how I do it, or how itʻs supposed to work. It just works when itʻs muscle memory. So I walk home, to my front door and not someone elseʻs because itʻs so part of muscle memory.

When Iʻm somewhere I donʻt know, especially indoors, it gets tricky.

Iʻve walked into wrong rooms because I didnʻt stop to read the room number (with fingers). If the room layout is the same and everything is the same, I donʻt notice a difference. Indoor landmarks can be tricky. Get off on floor number X – but if thereʻs nothing to tell you you are in floor number X, then what? Walk left instead of right – and you get lost. So when I go to a place, I actively remember how to get there: the elevators are straight ahead from the entrance. Take the ones on the left, go to floor number X, then turn right, itʻs that glass door and someone will see you. Bathroom location is that way from that point. Once Iʻve been somewhere a few times I know how to get there again. Itʻs just when Iʻm in a new location and have no clue or donʻt want to admit I need better directions it becomes a problem.

For indoor places there are good and bad ones. Hospitals and medical environments are terrible. I donʻt always see the walls, so go “wait over there” isnʻt useful. Finding my way back out of the building is always difficult unless I remember where the doors I came from are. Left, right, angles, turns… Iʻm lost. Nothing of big color splash to help find the way. I love big, bold splashes of walls in central locations – because I can maybe find myself back to that, and find the stairs or the lift or fountain or bathroom or exit or some clue to where I need to go. Hospitals are insanely huge – unnavigable to me. Big grocery stores are tricky too, because I need to remember where everything is (and that is tricky enough for just stuff home).

How do you navigate?

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