GPS (Global Positioning System) technology is internet independent technology which allows for the identification of one’s relatively precise location in the world (Pollack, 2005). GPS devices are commonly used in navigational software and are built into almost every modern mobile device. It has been shown experimentally that using GPS is inferior to a paper map when it comes to planning routes, remembering routes, and how many errors are made when following routes (Ishikawa et al., 2008).

     In regards to the use of GPS as an assistive technology, individuals who are intellectually and/or visually impaired use GPS to address some of their deficits (Lopresti, Mihailidis, & Kirsch, 2004). In both of these communities, GPS has been used as a monitoring tool for caregivers, and a navigating tool for individuals (Pollack, 2005). The effects of GPS use on individuals have been consistently positive; it has helped improve individual daily life functioning, and made it easier for caregivers to monitor them (Lopresti, Mihailidis, & Kirsch, 2004).

     It has also been shown that using GPS with these populations causes social-emotional strain: individuals with dementia who were being monitored via GPS were shown to have lower self-esteem and trust in their caregivers (Dahl & Holbo, 2012). Dahl and Holbo further suggested that using GPS on certain populations is a breach of privacy, and that the ethics of using GPS should be reconsidered.  


Research Rating: Due to the experimental nature of the information cited in this description this information is to be trusted as valid and reliable. However, the use of GPS for school-aged children has not been validated. There is no reason to suspect GPS use won’t generalize to younger populations, but nonetheless, it has not been empirically demonstrated.



  • Can be used on mobile devices without internet

  • Helps individuals both with visual and intellectual impairment navigate and be monitored

  • Relatively easy to use

  • Can be used with audio only, making GPS potentially helpful to people with impairments beyond those discussed already, such as reading difficulties



  • GPS can damage caregiver-patient relations, reducing relationship trust and patient self esteem (Dahl & Holbo, 2012)

  • GPS is a weaker navigation tool than using a paper map for the general audience, and leads to more errors (Ishikawa et al., 2008)

To Consider

  • When using GPS, individuals with visual impairments preferred voiced directions that provided a mix of specific directions and general environmental cues and descriptions (Havik, Kooijman & Steyvers, 2011)

  • Not all GPS are internet free.

  • Paper maps are more effective when they are feasible to use, even if GPS is more convenient (Ishikawa et al., 2008).

Special Consideration: Workflow

OS Compatibility
Internet Reliance
Optimized Use

Exact prices change frequently, which is why only approximate ranges are listed. 

$ - Under $5

$$ - Between $6 and $50

$$$ - Between $51 and $250

$$$$ - Over $250



Dahl, Y., & Holbø, K. (2012). Value biases of sensor-based assistive technology. Proceedings of the Designing Interactive Systems Conference on - DIS 12. doi:10.1145/2317956.2318043

Havik, E. M., Kooijman, A. C., & Steyvers, F. J. J. M. (2011). The effectiveness of verbal information provided by electronic travel aids for visually impaired persons. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 105(10), 624+.

Ishikawa, T., Fujiwara, H., Imai, O., & Okabe, A. (2008). Wayfinding with a GPS-based mobile navigation system: A comparison with maps and direct experience. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 28(1), 74-82. doi:10.1016/j.jenvp.2007.09.002

Lopresti, E. F., Mihailidis, A., & Kirsch, N. (2004). Assistive technology for cognitive rehabilitation: State of the art. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, 14(1-2), 5-39. doi:10.1080/09602010343000101

Pollack, M. E. (2005). Intelligent technology for an aging population: The use of AI to assist elders with cognitive impairment. AI Magazine, 26(2), 9-25.


Written by Francis Wall, Last Revision May 2018