285 million people are estimated to be visually impaired worldwide: 39 million are blind and 246 have low vision, according to the WHO. One of the biggest challenges they face is not being able to navigate independently. Places that sighted people pass through without thinking, such as a metro station or local shopping centre, are places to fear and be avoided. This has profound consequences for them, creating poverty, isolation and depression.
Research conducted in the UK revealed that nearly half of visually impaired people would like to leave their home more often. In response, in 2014 UK charity Royal Society for Blind Children (RSBC) and London-based digital technology innovators UsTwo came together to develop a ground breaking global solution to enable visually impaired people to navigate independently – Wayfindr Open Standard.
Wayfindr Open Standard is a comprehensive set of guidelines, tools and technology to integrate audio navigation into existing digital navigation products.
Wayfindr provides digital navigation makers (e.g. Google Maps) and owners of public spaces (e.g. a metro station) with the tools to provide visually impaired people with consistent, high quality digital navigation services. Wayfindr uses the best currently available technology, Bluetooth Beacons. Beacons are positioned in public locations, which ‘push’ audio digital prompts to digital navigation apps on the user’s mobile phone. As a visually impaired person walks past a beacon they hear their next instruction.
In this way, Wayfindr enables visually impaired people to navigate the world using audio instructions from their smartphones.
Wayfindr is one of the winners of the first societal challenge of d-LAB aiming at Empowering people with disabilities through mobile technologies.
Once the challenge winners are announced, the d-LAB team starts working together with the teams behind the winning proposals in the ideation of the pilot project. The d-LAB pilot project aims to validate both the solution in a real-world context of use and its social and economic impact. The long term objective is to scale up successful pilots.
The main objective of Wayfindr pilot is to test Wayfindr Open Standard in order to guide visually impaired people through indoor spaces using audio instructions from their smartphones. More precisely, in order to validate the Standard it is foreseen to trial it in a retail environment in Barcelona with multiple shops and routes to travel.
Wayfindr enables visually impaired people to navigate the world using audio instructions from their smartphones, and in consequence helps to:
- Increase Independence
- Reduce reliance on availability of a sighted guide or other support,
- Increase confidence and reduce isolation
- Increase access to social & cultural opportunities, improved social networks
- Increase ability to access employment, education & training
The vision for the future is for Barcelona to become a truly inclusive city, with transport systems, shopping centres and other places using the open standard so vision impaired people can navigate independently across the city.
The lives of Barcelona’s visually impaired people could be transformed through increased independence, reducing isolation. And they’d benefit from greater access to recreational and essential services, such as healthcare and education.