GPS Technologies Enable an Accessible World

January 25, 2023  - By
Photo: WeWALK

The WeWALK cane attachment and app was produced with partnerships with Microsoft and Imperial College London. (Image: WeWALK)

While some may only think of GPS technology as a convenience when driving a car or hiking, for many, GPS is a necessity. Through navigation devices, adaptable software, and mobility aids, GPS technology has become a vital part of accessibility efforts to support people with hearing loss, deafness, or visual impairments.

The World Health Organization estimates that at least 2.2 billion people are living with a vision impairment, and 430 million people are living with a disabling level of hearing loss. For these billions of people, everyday tasks such as navigating a new city or using public transportation can be a challenge. GPS technology gives people the independence needed to meet these challenges with confidence.



GPS technology in handheld navigation devices and adaptable software promotes accessibility and assists individuals with daily tasks. Accessibility features that rely on GPS technology can give users turn-by-turn directions to any destination, detailing the terrain, surroundings, and even relevant bus or metro stops along the way. Vibration signals complement voice directions to help users navigate busy areas and intersections regardless of visual or hearing abilities. These accessibility features make new spaces more accessible to people with vision and hearing loss by leveraging the ease and accuracy of GPS navigation technology.

Through innovative technologies and accessibility features, GPS also enables users to explore their surroundings. The “around me” feature on many GPS applications will read aloud descriptions of, and distances to, businesses, street names, and transportation options in the surrounding area. These resources allow individuals with hearing or vision loss to explore their communities and complete daily tasks worry-free. Interactive applications let users move their fingers along a screen while the device reads out street names and provides directions, helping users find their way in unknown locations. This ensures users have all the information they need to be confident exploring new places on their own.

In addition to helping individuals with vision and hearing loss navigate their surroundings, GPS technology also promotes safety and ensures individuals can be quickly located in the event of an emergency. For example, location tracking apps allow users to share their exact location with family and caretakers, promoting individual autonomy while also ensuring safety. If an emergency does occur, GPS technology helps emergency services quickly and accurately locate individuals and provide care.

From navigational accuracy to safety monitoring, the GPS Innovation Alliance (GPSIA) is proud to support the role of GPS technology in creating a safe, more accessible world for individuals with hearing or vision loss. Innovations in GPS technology, such as real-time location information and direction signaling, are changing the field of accessible technologies. GPSIA will continue to advocate for policies that promote and support the application of GPS in this field, encouraging all individuals to confidently lead an independent life.

About the Author: Alex Damato

Alex Damato is acting executive director or the GPS Innovation Alliance.