Sight Loss Councils testing tech to boost independence – Global Accessibility Awareness Day
Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD).
With more than one billion people with disabilities in the UK, the purpose of GAAD is to stimulate debate and learning about digital access and inclusion.
This Global Accessibility Awareness Day, we would like to highlight some of the innovative ways Sight Loss Councils are using accessible tech to improve blind and partially sighted people’s independence.
Northumberland SLC experiments with Apple AirTags
Northumberland Sight Loss Council teamed up with Newcastle International Airport to run the AirTag experiment. SLC members took part in a live experiment at Newcastle International Airport using Apple AirTags to precisely locate luggage on a carousel. Northumberland Sight Loss Council wanted to see how well AirTags might enable blind and partially sighted people to collect their luggage independently.
Engagement manager for Northumberland Sight Loss Council, Eamonn Dunne said:
“Blind and partially sighted people face many potential barriers when travelling. Thanks to devices such as the AirTag, locating your suitcase on a luggage carousel needn’t be one of them. We congratulate the team at Newcastle International Airport for inviting us in today and helping to promote independence”
Sight Loss Council volunteer, Peter Hayton said:
“For people with visual impairments, the prospect of trying to correctly identify your luggage – even with assistance – can be an extremely daunting process.
“Apple’s AirTag is a small Bluetooth powered item tracker that can be placed inside a suitcase. Using Apple’s ‘Precision Finding’ feature it should be possible to determine the exact distance and direction of the bag from you whilst the bag is moving on the luggage carousel. This means that visually impaired people now have a way of identifying their own luggage, rather than being required to accurately describe it to someone giving assistance. This is revolutionary for visually impaired people and should help to enable more people to travel independently.”
The experiment was a success! SLC member Peter Hayton, was able to locate a piece of luggage independently.
Greater Manchester SLC navigate with GoodMaps Explore
Greater Manchester Sight Loss Council hopes to provide solutions to improve the independence of blind and partially sighted travellers by utilising GoodMaps Explore.
Engagement manager Kelly Barton says:
”The GoodMaps Explore app makes indoor navigation more accessible to blind and partially sighted people. It can be downloaded to any smartphone device but is currently only available at a handful of locations, one of them being Manchester Airport Railway Station.
“The app enables those who are blind or partially sighted to navigate the train station independently and could take away the need for blind travellers to book sighted assistance. I am working with members of the Greater Manchester Sight Loss Council and our tech team to test out the app and if it works in the way we hope it does, this technology could make a real difference in empowering people who can’t see by enabling them to navigate without assistance around the train station.
“Tech that enables accessible indoor navigation could be used in so many other areas such as shopping centre and visitor attractions going forward and could make a real difference to the lives of blind and partially sighted people.”
Working with Microsoft Soundscape
For over a year Sight Loss Councils have been working closely with Microsoft to help test and develop the Microsoft Soundscape app.“Microsoft Soundscape is a product from Microsoft Research that explores the use of innovative audio-based technology to enable people to build a richer awareness of their surroundings, thus becoming more confident and empowered to get around. Unlike step-by-step navigation apps, Soundscape uses 3D audio cues to enrich ambient awareness and provide a new way to relate to the environment. It allows you to build a mental map and make personal route choices while being more comfortable within unfamiliar spaces.” – www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/product/soundscape/
SLC members met with Central Bedfordshire council representatives at Millennium Country Park last month to experiment with the app. SLC members used the Soundscape app to map out a route, using beacons to mark various landmarks and hazards along the route. SLC members then retook the route and, by utilising the app, could navigate the route independently — this included finding and passing through a cattle gate unencumbered!
We were able to document the live experiment on social media, where you can see Hubert and Masuma navigate the route utilising the Soundscape route. This summer, Marston Vale Trust is looking to organise a guided walk with Bedfordshire Sight Loss Council. Details about the event will be publicised on our events page, so stay tuned!
Want to campaign for more accessible services for blind and partially sighted people in your area? Influence positive change by volunteering for our Sight Loss Council.
Publication date: 18 May 2022