How to use Google Maps app with VoiceOver to Travel a Route

Technology is all the rage right now. We are obsessed with everything from our mobile devices, to wearable devices, to apps, to beacons... 

How can we keep up with it all? 

The truth is. You don't have to. Focus on the fundamentals. Cane Skills. Getting out of bathroom stalls. Traveling routes INDEPENDENTLY. Those skills are the foundation of all of your students' travel skills. 

From there, you can start to incorporate new technology and mobile apps in to your students' curriculum. 

Today, we are going to deep dive in to using Google maps and voiceover for students visual impairments. Is it the fanciest one with the most bells and whistles? No. And that, my friend, is precisely why I use Google Maps the most out of any of the mobile apps. 


Google maps application image


What is Google Maps?

Google Maps is a web mapping service on a mobile device that can help you plan walking, driving, public transportation, and biking routes. 

Google maps will give you turn by turn directions on how to get to where you want to go. 

If you have an iPhone, your phone came with Apple maps. Throw it away. Go to the iTunes Store and download Google Maps. If you have an Android, head to your app store and download Google Maps. 

How to Use Google Maps App, in general. 

You have probably used Google Maps while going somewhere. In order to use the application, you need to search for the destination that you want to travel to, and then pull up directions. 

The application will automatically calculate where you are and have the directions begin from your location. 

If you'd like to have it start from a different location (like, your lesson plan starting point), you will need to enter that information. 

Google Maps application has at least four different transportation modes. 

Walking mode, for pedestrians traveling on foot.

Driving mode, for drivers.

Public Transportation mode, which may be synced to your local public transportation information. 

Bicycling mode, for those on bicycles. 

and Shared Ride mode, for those wanting to use a shared ride service (i.e., Uber). 

You will need to select the correct transit mode, and then follow the instructions provided by the application to travel to the destination. 

Discrepancies between the application and real world experiences.

When traveling with your student, bear in mind that there will be discrepancies between the application and real world experiences. In this example below, the walking route ends with the app indicating that the person needs to turn right in order to locate the bakery. 

If the student is traveling on the north side of the street, the bakery is on the other side of the street. If a student listens to the app without taking in all of the information from his/her environment, they might be apt to make an unnecessary mid-block crossing. 

I once had a student follow the app all the way to this point. The app said "The destination is on your right". So, my student turned her body to the right. She was standing facing the street and started searching for the door of the bakery. Inch by inch, I saw her move her cane towards the edge of the sidewalk. She stepped down in to an open parking space in front of the grocery store. She walked in to the street, almost to the crest of the street before I stopped her and asked her to think about her decisions. 

Even though my student had traveled the route from avenue F to Quacks' Bakery before (without Google Maps), she still followed exactly what it said to do without thinking about the real-world information that she was getting. She didn't think about the fact that she was crossing the street. She didn't think about the fact that she had stepped DOWN off the curb, or that there were large cars on either side of her. She didn't stop to think about the fact that she could feel her feet incline with the curvature of the street. 

She just did what the app told her to do. 

This is just one example. The app will also not tell you if there are sidewalks at a particular intersection. It will not tell you the shape of intersection, any anomalies in the traffic, or if there is construction happening. 

One of the reasons that I said "cane skills...etc. are the foundation of your students' independent travel skills" is because without proper orientation, mobility, and problem solving skills, this application may cause more harm than good for your student. 

Map of route. Dotted lines in the road indicate walking route. Red Destination Pin on south side of street. 

How to Use Google Maps with Voice Over to Travel a Route

After your student has the precursor skills, you can begin to work on GPS apps like Google Maps. 

When teaching young students, I follow the traditional "I do, we do, you do" teaching model. For older students, I may help them download the app on their device and send them off to figure it out on their own between classes. I've found that older students do great if I let them figure it out and they come back and teach me. 

This brand new Cane and Compass blog post will give you an idea of all of the voice over gestures. 

For Google Maps, you only need to know a few. 

Swipe right moves the cursor to the right. Swipe left moves the cursor to back/to the left. 

1-tap on something makes VoiceOver read it. 

2-tap on something selects it. 

That's it. You can get in to the fancy VoiceOver stuff later. Or better yet, assign a teenager to teach you. 

Because it takes so long to type something, I often use the microphone key (dictation) on the keyboard to say the address/destination/starting point/etc. 

My lessons often look like this:


  1. Introduce/ preview lesson.

  2. While seated at a desk/table, plan the route with the student.

  3. Drive to starting location.

  4. Have student travel route with google maps directions. Provide support and problem solving questions as needed to interpret differences between environmental information and Google Maps information.

  5. At the end of the lesson, review how each step of the route went.


If you are interested in using Google Maps with VoiceOver to travel a route with your students, I created a free downloadable (and accessible!) gift for you!

With this Step-by-Step lesson plan, you will be able to easily teach any GPS web service with VoiceOver to your students. 

Use simple VoiceOver commands to help your students travel from Point A to B with ease.

Take it anywhere! This a completely free downloadable document. Print it out or keep it on your iPad/kindle for when you are out teaching. 

No more guessing or trying to figure out how to make it work. No more using multiple planning periods (if you even get a planning period) to figure out the newest and greatest tech. Using simple approaches to technology skills, you can build a foundation of freedom and independence for your students. 

Lesson plan images