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Feature image Travel Smarter with Accessible Tech

A lot of the time on this blog we focus on digital accessibility for your everyday life. This is practical, since it is stuff that you use every day. But what about those little digital gems you only use occasionally? They deserve attention too! One of the things I’m always interested in learning about are digital accommodations around the globe. These can be extremely helpful when traveling, and I travel a lot. While being visually impaired makes traveling a bit tougher, there are some great digital tools that help me (and probably a lot of other people) to get around more easily.

Things I Rely On for Travel

  1. Translator Apps – Not surprisingly, I rely heavily on a translator app to help me read everything from signs to menus. But what I really like about this is the photo translation feature. Typing in text to have it translated is difficult for me (especially in countries that don’t use the Roman alphabet. It takes the struggle out of trying to input foreign text and gives you pretty helpful results. I also really appreciate that the Google Translate iPhone app makes the translated text large if you tilt your phone sideways. I use this all the time to read tiny print that I wouldn’t be able to understand otherwise.
  2. My Camera App – Think camera apps are just a great way to get some travel snapshots? Think again! I use the zoom function on my camera app to read things that I cannot see far away. I can either zoom in before I take the shot or I can wait and enlarge the text on my screen once I take the photo. I use the Camera+ app for iPhone because it has a decent zoom feature. I know I probably look odd taking pictures of road signs, but it’s a great way to make sure you are reading things correctly.
  3. Audio Tours and Podcasts – Tour books are really tough for me to use. They’re thick and typically cram tons of facts onto a page using tiny font. It’s a lot easier for me to listen to travel advice rather than lug around a book that is too difficult for me to read without a magnifying glass. It’d be cool if they digitized travel guides in a meaningful way, but until then might I recommend downloading some Rick Steves Audio Tours? I really love his enthusiastic and positive approach to travel, and he has great advice for travelers. Once I was on a tour of Pompeii and we all stopped listening to the guide because another tour member had Rick Steves’ audio guide and it was just better.
  4. Digital Maps – Honestly, without my map app I’d probably still be lost in Tokyo. The best thing about the map application on my iPhone is that it talks to me. Now, it isn’t perfect by any means. Sometimes instead of giving a street name in Japanese it just goes silent. And other times it’s pronunciation of Japanese locations is even worse than mine (a feat in itself).

    Despite these quirks, traveling while visually impaired means I need to rely on assistive technology pretty heavily to get around. Only having one eye that can read means that I don’t really have the capacity to look at my phone and navigate the streets simultaneously. Having the left, right, and straight directional prompts vocalized through my earphones is amazingly helpful. I feel more confident getting around, and am able to pay more attention to the road and less to staring at the map on my tiny phone screen.

    Of course, this means I need to have reliable Wi-Fi or a data plan that accommodates international map use. I think it’s pretty worth it to not constantly wonder where I am and if I’ll end up going in the completely wrong direction.

I Really Want to Try…

Digital Tracking Device – No matter how often I travel, I always have the momentary panic that I have left something at the hotel or somewhere even less safe. Mostly I worry about my wallet, phone, passport, and glasses. If I have those things, then I can handle things pretty well. But those few minutes spent frantically rooting around my bag to make sure I have everything aren’t fun. Especially when I end up undoing a precarious packing job. So the thought of having a little sticker I could attach to my passport holder or glasses case and track them down seems pretty great. I’ve never tried one, but I’m considering picking up something like TrackR for my upcoming trip to Cambodia.

I Think We Need…

I think we need a translated digital accessibility card to be a thing that exists. I know that a lot of people have some sort of ID that they carry that identifies their impairment or disability, but it’s always in their native language. While this makes sense most of the time, it would be great to have a digital version that can be translated into different languages. It wouldn’t have to be anything too complex, just a fill in the blank about the disability and then an option to save it as an image on your phone. Anyway, I think that would be helpful.

Traveling with a disability can be made a lot easier by incorporating a few digital components into your plans. Making sure you have reliable access to Wi-Fi and helpful accommodations loaded onto your phone or device can make your trip even more enjoyable. Also, it’s good to note that if you are disabled and might require medical assistance you should review the city’s embassy website for your country. I know that the US Embassy has some helpful recommendations online for English speaking doctors in various cities. Arm yourself with information before you leave, and your trip will be better than you could have ever imagined.

Did You Know?

There are travel companies that cater exclusively to people who need accommodations while traveling. I haven’t used any of these services yet, but I think it is really good to know they exist. A quick Google search of “assistive travel” will give you the names of several companies who focus on making travel accessible to everyone. While it’s not specifically related to digital travel accommodations, I think It’s good to know that there are travel companies who can help you take the trip of your dreams.

What digital gadgets help you when you travel? Do you ever use standard apps (like a translator) to boost your accessibility in some way? Share your digital travel tips in the comments below!