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Student Researches Wayfinding and Brain Injury

Think of the last time you went somewhere. Maybe you went to the grocery store, to the park, or to the brain injury society. To get there, you had to plan and follow a route. Planning and following a route is called wayfinding. Research has shown that people with brain injury often have a hard time wayfinding, which may lower access to the community. But hand-held technology is becoming more advanced, and may help people with brain injury to plan and follow their routes.

With this in mind, a computer science graduate student named Nathanael Kuipers began his research on wayfinding in acquired brain injury. His goal was to better understand the requirements for designing a hand-held wayfinding tool. In a series of interviews, participants with acquired brain injury shared their wayfinding experiences. They also commented on the idea and design of a hand-held wayfinding tool.

It became clear that wayfinding can be very emotional. Some participants feel anxious about going to unfamiliar places. Others may suddenly lose their way and become terribly flustered. Coping with unexpected change, such as a detour, and feeling overwhelmed by too much going on are also serious problems. Several strategies came to light, such as marking up bus schedules and maps, going over directions step by step with a bus driver or family member, and following a series of landmarks.

Participants were mostly enthusiastic about the idea of a hand-held wayfinding tool. Some said that it would increase their confidence, but others said they would have no need for it. Cost was also a concern, along with losing or damaging the hand-held device. Many design ideas were offered, showing that each person may have different needs. There were common themes too, such as a simple interface and audio feedback. Several participants said that a map with landmarks would be very useful.

Nathanael’s research suggests that managing orientation and anxiety is important for survivors of acquired brain injury. They will likely need more support going to unfamiliar places, but their abilities and confidence may improve over time. A hand-held wayfinding tool should be aware of the abilities of each user, and respond quickly to what’s going on. It should be as interactive as possible, so that the user is engaged and empowered. It should include information on landmarks. It must be simple to use.

This research will play an important role in a project called CanGo. CanGo is a wayfinding tool being developed at CanAssist. CanAssist is an organization at UVic that makes technology for people with disabilities. Nathanael works at CanAssist, and is a member of the CanGo team.

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