JMU brings technology to campus for the visually impaired

Published: Jul. 22, 2022 at 4:08 AM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - James Madison University hosted a group of high school students this week to try out a new navigation app, with hopes of figuring out whether or not college is a good fit for them.

JMU, Central Region Nordic Alliance (CRNA), Microsoft Soundscape, and Virginia Department for the Blind and Visually Impaired (VDBVI) came together to give the students a taste of college life. They slept in the residence halls, ate in the dining halls and most importantly, learned to navigate a larger space with new technology.

Microsoft Soundscape is a GPS app that uses a series of ticks and bells to track every step and give directions.

“We can create points literally anywhere in the world, and if they keep the tinker bell in sight, they will reach that point,” said Russ Myer, Executive Director for CNRA.

Those involved hope this fresh technology will make higher education more accessible and more appealing to students who are visually impaired or blind.

“The overall point of us partnering with James Madison University is to help [the students] understand all the opportunities the university can provide when they are making choices about what they want to do post-high school,” said Pam Cato with VDBVI.

She says the program also enhances the student’s sense of independence.

Tish Harris, a JMU alum, adds the program is all about empowering the students.

JMU is the first institution in Virginia to have Soundscape on campus. This emphasizes the university’s vision to create an inclusive community.

“The first thing you’ll find at JMU is the desire to create opportunities for all students to be successful... and create an experience that will allow those students to feel confident about their college experience,” Arthur Dean, Vice President for Diversity and Equity said. “We’ll always embrace something new, and we’re always looking for ways to serve students better.”

Jaquon Evans, a program mentor, says this app could be useful to everyone.

“This is definitely something that is the future. It definitely helps people who are visually impaired and have disabilities but even people who don’t have disabilities, who are fresh to an environment or don’t have a good sense of direction,” he said.

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