The desire to help the people who are partially-sighted was part of what originally got Kontakt.io off the ground. Long before the commercial applications of beacons created the proximity industry, it was clear that the technology could be a tool for those who needed a little help navigating their way around public spaces.
This commitment has continued through Kontakt.io’s rise to global leadership in beacons. We even started a special program, Beacons for Good, to help make the benefits of beacons available to anyone who needs them. Hardware from Kontakt.io is part of applications helping people who are blind in many places.
Recently, Kontakt.io was on a team of partners who helped to implement a project backed by the Wellington City Council, New Zealand to install two hundred beacons in the central business district to assist the person who are blind or partially-sighted. The deployment was part of the Council’s Smart Capital strategy and has been praised by the City’s mayor as “a first for New Zealand and will build Wellington’s reputation as a smart and accessible destination” and “will welcome people with visual impairments to participate fully in the life of the city.”
Some 200,000 New Zealanders have some form of visual impairment and the Wellington deployment was designed to make shopping, getting around and enjoying all that the area has to offer easier than ever.
Users can install a free application from BlindSquare in their iPhones and instantly take advantage of the navigation and information services available. After many successful deployments elsewhere around the world, this was the another use of BlindSquare’s navigational assistance capabilities in New Zealand.
The application uses text-to-speech to give users audible information about their environments and even the interior layout of buildings. It gives spoken contextual direction-specific information about the names of shops and what they offer, nearby public transport stops and even the names of streets they are walking along or crossing.
The idea was to build on the accessibility that beacons provided in retail, hotels and museums and take it to the next level by having everything interconnected with things like information about public transport. The project specifically set out to prove the value of a single beacon, in a single shop, illuminating the interior with information.
“We have seen excellent examples of how beacons can improve accessibility within places like retail, hotels and museums. Now it is about taking this a step further by having everything interconnected.” — Brent Albiston, Managing Director at Radiola Aerospace
The Wellington, BlindSquare Enabled Project was intended to offer rich information, inside and outside. In fact, a big part of the appeal for many in the partially sighted community was the ability to navigate indoors.
“Travel for blind and partially sighted people becomes more difficult when they enter buildings. GPS signals are lost, no additional information is available, exploring new areas becomes harder and may even require sighted assistance. It is our goal to create environments that support independent travel, adventure, and the joys of choice, whether outdoors or indoors. We do this daily.” — Ilkka Pirttimaa, CEO at MIPsoft, creators of BlindSquare
Participation in the project was free for retailers and businesses were urged to take part. One beacon per location was installed for locations that joined with a couple of exceptions for buildings with multiple entrances. When anyone using the app passes by a beacon in one of the “BlindSquare-enabled” shops, services, offices or institutions, its name and a brief description can be heard along with information about the interior location of things like doors, stairs, and other features. This spoken information can be easily updated as needed.
New Zealand Blind Foundation CEO Sandra Budd says the beacon deployment in Wellington “will make businesses and their information more accessible and help people who are blind or have low vision to live a life without limits. Visitors will no longer encounter a void when they enter a business because there will now be information beyond the tip of the cane as they explore, enjoy their coffees, purchase their goods and visit with friends in the central city with new-found ease.”
The most important benefit of the beacon deployment in Wellington is enabling residents, visitors, and tourists who are visually impaired to explore, shop and enjoy their time in the Central Business District independently. Thomas Bryan of the Blind Foundation New Zealand sums it up nicely when he says "You don't always want to be asking for help.”
“I strongly believe that Wellington City Council will inspire more local governments to implement beacon-based solutions for their societies. We couldn’t be more proud that we are a part of that story.” — Szymon Niemczura, CEO at Kontakt.io
Wellington, BlindSquare Enabled Project launch video:
The project is a partnership between Wellington City Council, Blind Foundation, Radiola Smart Transit, Kontakt.io, and BlindSquare
Cover photo credit: "Wellington" by Vašek Vinklát is licensed under CC BY 2.0.