• 12.05.12

A Mapping App For The Blind Talks You Through The Neighborhood

BlindSquare uses FourSquare check-ins to give the visually impaired a sense of what’s popular, reads them the menu, and then directs them to the destination.

Checking in on FourSquare no longer just lets your friends (or stalkers) know which bar to find you at. Thanks to the new iPhone and iPad app BlindSquare (which builds on similar efforts by a smartphone-equipped cane), that data now helps the blind and visually impaired navigate unfamiliar turf. By aggregating FourSquare data and processing it through Apple’s speech synthesis program VoiceOver, BlindSquare renders a neighborhood’s geography for the ear, as opposed to the eye.


App users need only pull out their device and call up the program to hear a list of the most popular destinations in their vicinity, broken down by categories like food, shops and services, and arts and entertainment. If you’re in an area with a lot of restaurants, for example, the most popular ones–based on FourSquare check-ins–would be the ones named first by the program. (It can even open the menu and read it to you if available.)

The app can then give verbal instructions on how to get to any location, using a talking compass. If BlindSquarers shake their device, they’ll get a report on their location with the address, nearest cross street, and the services found in different directions. Users can save their locations to iCloud to access them from other devices, share them with friends, or use BlindSquare to check-in on FourSquare.

The app supports seven languages, including English, German, Spanish, and Finnish–the last one being the native tongue of the team of creators at the app company MIPsoft, who in the past created a transit app and a recycling center locator for Finland.

BlindSquare was released on the App Store in May, for $14.99. The creators told Mashable the hefty fee is needed to license speech synthesis technology made by the company Acapela, which lets BlindSquare turn web text into spoken words.

About the author

Zak Stone is a Los Angeles-based writer and a contributing editor of Playboy Digital. His writing has appeared in,, Los Angeles, The Utne Reader, GOOD, and elsewhere.