Promoting Accessibility for People Who are Blind or Visually Impaired

There’s an area in Toronto which is becoming the most accessible, especially for people who are blind or visually impaired. The Yonge and St. Clair area of the Canada’s largest city is home to the new hub of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB). The centre’s opening this summer has meant an increase in visitors and new residents to the area who are blind or visually impaired. So, to make the neighbourhood more accessible, local businesses in the area decided to install beacons which help those people with vision loss navigate their shops.

The beacons link up to a smartphone app called BlindSquare, which can send out directions to the user as they approach or enter a store. CNIB spokesperson, Kat Clarke explained regular GPS apps such as Google Maps have no trouble guiding someone to the front door of an establishment but the BlindSquare app goes one step further, “Using these beacons, we can program in information, so when someone walks into a store they know where to go to place their order or anything else they need to know to make their way through the store,” says Clarke.

The download fee is eliminated by the neighbourhood’s BlindSquare geofence which encircles the area. Users simply have to shake their phones to get in-store directions which warn them of permanent obstacles, stairs and features such as cash registers. It is hoped the scheme will encourage more residents who are afraid to venture far from their homes to come out and explore the neighbourhood. 

The CNIB hopes to have 200 businesses enrolled in the project by the end of the year. Clarke said she hopes to enhance the program with Quick Response (QR) codes so a user may, for example, scan a code in a church and listen to a visual description of the stained glass window in front of them.

For more information about Yonge and St. Clair moving toward full accessibility for the blind, click here.