GPS puts me in the driver’s seat–almost

By Karen Keninger
Contributing Writer

I’ve been using a BrailleNote-based GPS system from Sendero for the past several years, and I love it–mostly.

I find myself using it in three distinct ways: navigating in the car, planning routes in unfamiliar cities, and checking my whereabouts.

It’s been very helpful finding locations in the car. Not only can it provide route information, but it can find you the nearest White Castle or Holiday Inn and tell you how to get there. (This has been very handy on trips through the Midwest!)

 It can be temperamental though. The search features are functional but cumbersome, and rural addresses are almost impossible to find unless you know what township they’re in. Most people I know, including me, don’t have a clue about townships, so it makes addresses outside of city limits very difficult to find. They’ve introduced a postal code option, but I don’t usually have that at my fingertips either. Mailing addresses for rural locations would be a better solution.

Planning routes is another very handy way to use it. When I’m in an unfamiliar city, I can sit in my hotel room and find out where the nearest Greek restaurant or shopping mall is located and then plot a route to it. This option is pretty friendly since in this situation I have time to work through all the details. It even has the phone numbers, so I can call and make reservations if I want.

The 2010 version has lots of other options that I haven’t used, like adding information such as menus to points of interest.

I like to know where I am and what’s around me. So I use my GPS when I’m walking or riding in an unfamiliar city to verify street names and find out what’s out there. I can ask it to announce all of the points of interest available, or select for certain categories.

In rural Iowa I use all categories because there just aren’t all that many things out there. But in New York City information overload is a potentially fatal mental health hazard. I select for shops, or restaurants, or museums. In the car, it will tell me about interstate exits, towns and cities, and other information that keeps me pinned to my location without having to ask.

The biggest advantage, and the biggest disadvantage, to the BrailleNote/Sendero system is its complexity. If I have time to use it thoroughly, it’s great, but on the fly it can be frustrating. And it has many features I have simply not thoroughly explored.

A second disadvantage is the simple fact that I have to carry the unit and read or listen to it as I go. It can be very distracting, which is one caveat travel instructors have discovered. Using the Braille display allows me to concentrate on audio input from my surroundings, but it jumps around a lot and makes it hard to catch a whole message before it’s gone on to something else. There might be a setting I’ve missed? Using an earphone is not recommended while walking, and attaching a speaker to my collar is just about as distracting.

Sendero keeps the maps updated, but they seem to require upgrading the software, and software upgrades are not free.

Right now my BrailleNote is in the shop, and the one I’m borrowing in the meantime doesn’t have GPS on it. I hope I get mine back before my next trip!!

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