Been Wondering About Orientation vs. Navigation?

2 April 2018 / RightHear / Mollie Cole, Community & Content Manager

Orientation vs Navigation, Illustrations of compass vs illustration of Location pins
Orientation vs Navigation, Illustrations of compass vs illustration of Location pins

This April, we’ll be quickly covering the difference between orientation and navigation.

They might sound similar, and they’re easy to mix-up. However, they’re two different concept that allow for entirely different levels of confidence and independence.

Orientation, simply put, is how you orient yourself. It’s understanding what’s around you and what direction it’s in. Orientation is knowing that the wall is to your right, the entrance is directly behind you, there’s a table coming up that you need to go around, and eventually there will be a hallway leading left that will take you to where you want to go.

Navigation is following a set of turn-by-turn directions to get you to the desired end point. To navigate somewhere, you must have a final destination in mind and go directly there. While navigating somewhere will incorporate orientation skills, the concern isn’t orientation itself.

Orientation concerns itself with all things surrounding a person, not just the ones relevant to getting to a specific destination.

To use an example that would be common for sighted people, think of getting in your car. To navigate somewhere, you have two options: enter a specific location into a GPS for turn-by-turn directions, or rely on your own previous knowledge of the area to take a specific route to that place. That’s navigation.

If you’re well-oriented, and you get in your car, that means you have a solid understanding of where different streets connect with each other, where local stores are in relation to where you are, and maybe even which direction is north or south. You have a general understanding of the area that lets you independently decide where to go, what to do, and how to get there without being reliant on a GPS.

Now, imagine being blind or visually impaired and entering a building for the first time. You’re faced with the same options: navigation, or orientation. To navigate, you must already have a certain place in mind before you even start to go in any direction. But given you do, you then either have to ask for turn-by-turn instructions, or rely on previous knowledge of the venue to follow a specific route to that place. That’s not an option if it’s your first time in the venue. So, you’re essentially stuck, unable to navigate independently.

Being well-oriented allows you to wander and explore the venue without having to have a specific place in mind, just like a sighted person would be able to do. Because you have an idea of how certain hallways connect or where different points of interest are, you can independently choose where to go and when to go there with complete independence. This capacity for independence is why the RightHear solution supports orientation, not navigation.

RightHear provides relevant information about all points of interest in any direction that a person points their phone, so the person can build a mental “orientation map” of the area by simply listening to what the app has to say about what’s in each direction around them. This is much more empowering than simply providing a navigation service, and supports our vision of making venues truly accessible so anyone can use them, any way they want.

Still have questions about orientation and navigation? Let us know in the comments or on social media!