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Navigating life’s obstacles: Wayfindr Q&A

Audio navigation systems can be a useful tool to help blind and visually impaired people become more independent and mobile, particularly when used in an app.

The Wayfindr project has just unveiled a valuable contribution to the field by releasing the first ‘open standard’ for audio navigation. The standard features detailed guidelines to help developers, transport services and building owners create digital navigation systems that can be used by blind and visually impaired people.

Last year, Wayfindr organised a trial in London’s Eutson Tube Station, featuring blind and visually impaired participants navigating the station through a demo mobile app. The app spoke directions out loud to the users, triggered by Bluetooth ‘beacons’ around the station. With the trial successful and the open standard released, it seems like there’s big potential for Wayfindr to make a real difference.

E-Access Bulletin spoke to one of the Wayfindr team, Katherine Payne, to find out more.

- How did the idea for Wayfindr come about?

“In 2014 the Royal London Society for Blind People’s Youth Forum released their youth manifesto, which detailed the challenges they faced as blind young Londoners. One of the main challenges was transport. They wanted to navigate the London Underground transport system independently. Working with digital product studio ustwo, the Youth Forum investigated how mainstream technology could support this. Using Bluetooth low energy beacons and smartphones, we have developed a system of audio-based navigation.”

- How does Wayfindr work?

“Emerging indoor navigation technologies, such as Bluetooth low energy beacons, hold the key to opening up the world for vision-impaired people. However, in order to achieve the greatest impact globally, there is a pressing need to develop a consistent standard to be used across wayfinding systems. This will truly open up a world where vision-impaired people are no longer held back by their sight loss, removing barriers to employment, to seeing friends and family, and engaging in their community.

“The Wayfindr Open Standard aims to do just that. It gives venue owners and digital navigation service providers the tools to implement high quality, consistent audio wayfinding solutions. It also includes an open-source demo app that enables people who download it to use Bluetooth beacons, to understand and implement the open standard with real users, in real contexts, in real time.”

- Who is the standard aimed at and where might it be used?

“The aim is that this open standard will help lower the barrier for built-environment owners and digital navigation services to make their environments, products and services inclusive from the outset, as we continue to weave technology into our cities.

“We hope it will be used across transport networks and digital navigation services, including places like Tranport For London and the CityMapper transport app.”

- What kind of research helped produce the standard?

“Various resources informed the content of the standard, which is still a first-version working draft. These resources include user-research from trials of London Pimlico Underground Station, Sydney Town Hall Train Station and London Euston Underground Station. Academic research supports the findings from these trials.

“Additionally, factual information about vision-impairment and the navigation techniques of vision impaired people was used, plus input and feedback from industry experts.”

- What applications does the Wayfindr open standard have for blind and visually impaired people?

“Eventually it will be other trains, and not just the London Underground, that vision-impaired people will be able to navigate on their own. It could then be expanded to city level, to restaurants and to shops. Ruksana, a member of the Royal London Society for Blind People’s Youth Forum, made the following comment about these ideas: ‘That would be really revolutionary, it would change our lives. We wouldn’t need any assistance to get anywhere.’”

- How do you hope to develop Wayfindr in the future?

“We want to see audio wayfinding solutions across the world – in transport networks, shopping centres, hospitals and other places. We can’t do this alone. We need the Wayfindr community to keep sharing their knowledge, expertise and experience, to strengthen the standard and implement accessible navigation solutions globally.”

Find out more at the Wayfindr website:
http://eab.li/1k .

Comments

  1. Terry Robinson | July 5th, 2016 | 1:49 pm

    Describe Online has been providing information like this for 16 years. We’ve never relied on people placing beacons, simply giving them the information they need to decide whether they can navigate a site independently or whether they need help and, if so, with what.

    I always get the shivers when people claim that individuals can suddenly navigate venues independently with the aid of technology. Many years ago I was advised “don’t get yourself killed trying other folks’ gadgets”.

    I think such claims do need to be taken with a pinch of salt. Yes, we empower people to set their own agendas and possibly navigate independently, but there are no magic solutions that enable everyone who happens to be blind to do that.

    Regards,

    Terry Robinson

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