Cardinal/Compass Directions – Point 2 of 5 of the 5 Point Travel System

The 5 point travel system is an important set of orientation and mobility skills for people who are blind and visually impaired to become independent travelers. For an introduction to the 5 point travel system, check out my previous blog post here.

What are cardinal directions?

Cardinal directions also known as compass directions are North, South, East, and West.

hand holding a traditional compass with a black background
Hand holding a compass

Why are they important for Orientation & Mobility?

To become a truly independent traveler a person needs to be able to understand and incorporate cardinal directions into their travel. The reason cardinal directions are so important and part of the 5 point travel system is because no matter which way a person is facing cardinal directions remain constant and consistent.

Let me explain with an example. Imagine you are standing with your back to a wall in a large open room. The wall behind you is the North wall. No matter which way you turn, left, right, or even face the wall it is still the North Wall. However, if you are using lateral directions if you turn the direction of the wall changes. For example, if you turn left the wall is now the left wall but if you turn right it is now the right wall. Having set and consistent directions such as knowing exactly where the North wall is in a room no matter which way a person is facing can be very helpful for orientation purposes.

establishing Cardinal directions

The first thing a traveler needs to do is establish which way is North, South, East, and West. There are many different ways to do this. A person can use a traditional compass, large print compass, or a talking compass. Another option is to use a compass app on a smartphone. There are many different compass apps available to meet a persons need whether that be large print, high contrast, or audible speech.

Person holding an iPhone with it on the home screen
person holding silver iPhone

If for whatever reason a person is unable to establish the true cardinal directions. There is the option to come up with contrived cardinal directions. I’ll explain again with an example. Imagine walking into an unfamiliar room and you have no compass to establish the true cardinal directions. You can instead pick one wall, it doesn’t matter which one and you can call that the North wall. Which is essentially doing the same thing, by establishing a consistent and constant direction.

examples

Example 1: If a person is trying to find a house in a residential neighborhood using cardinal directions will be far more helpful then using lateral directions. For example, saying the house is on the left side of the street assumes that a person is facing or coming from a set direction. However, as soon as the person faces a different direction or comes from another direction it is no longer reliable. Instead, if it is established that the house is on the north side of the street no matter which way a person is facing or coming from they will know exactly what side of the street the house is located on.

birds eye view of 3 houses in a residential neighborhood
Birds eye view of three residential houses

Example 2: When at an intersection being able to identify the different corners of that intersection using cardinal directions can be very helpful for orientation purposes. By establishing cardinal directions for the different corners no matter which way a person is facing or the corner they are at they will no exactly where they are located at that intersection.

For an example video and demonstration click here

Conclusion

As an Orientation and Mobility Specialist, I highly recommend learning how to use cardinal directions as a way of increasing a person’s ability to travel independently. It is good to start small by learning how to incorporate cardinal directions first indoors in a familiar environment and gradually increasing the difficulty to outdoor unfamiliar environments.

For a review of step 1 of the the 5 point travel system click here

Thank you for reading. I hope this article was helpful. Please feel free to leave a comment or send me an email at blindonthemove@gmail.com with any questions or comments.

Published by Mike Mulligan

Is a Certified Orientation & Mobility Specialist who provides product resources, reviews, and tutorials.

3 thoughts on “Cardinal/Compass Directions – Point 2 of 5 of the 5 Point Travel System

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