Cognitive-map forming of the blind in virtual sound environment
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This paper describes a new assistive technology for sightless persons based on a virtual auditory display (VAD). This system is intended to encourage its users to improve their map-forming skills and use them more efficiently while providing a safe virtual sound environment to virtually walk and navigate through. The VAD is a middle-ware software program called SiFASo (Simulative environment for acoustic 3D software), which is implemented onWindows XP (Microsoft Corp.). The system virtually realizes a sound maze through which a user navigates using a game controller instead of traveling physically. Two experiments were conducted to evaluate the practical effectiveness of this newly developed system. Firstly, it was examinedwhether participants were able to create corresponding tactile maps after walking through virtual sound mazes. Evaluation using bi-dimensional regression analyses and bi-dimensional correlation coefficients indicated that most participants were able to produce accurate cognitive maps. Secondly, an experiment to investigate whether the participants, after navigating through a virtual sound environment of an actual but unfamiliar building, could find their way on a real passage upon which the virtual environment was based. Results showed that three out of four participants were capable of completing the given tasks. This system is effective to promote the forming of cognitive maps or survey maps of users. For those reasons, it might be a useful tool for effectively training blind persons, thereby improving their orientation and mobility.