Barrier-free tourism applications for the blind and visually impaired
Thanks to a range of mobile applications developed specifically for the blind and visually impaired, more people than ever can now enjoy the Düsseldorf region while on holiday in Germany.
" With the development of barrier-free tourism applications and cross-traffic navigation solutions for blind and visually impaired people, the Guide4Blind project aims to improve the mobility and quality of life of these people. "
The days of navigating a city with large, cumbersome paper maps are long gone, having been replaced by the wide availability mobile maps and travel applications. Although these have become second nature for many of us when traveling, they have remained largely inaccessible for those with physical disabilities and, in particular, the blind and people with visual impairments.
To remedy this shortcoming, the Guide4Blind project has developed new tourism-focused applications to help the blind and visually impaired better navigate cities. Via a range of barrier-free tourism applications and cross-traffic navigation solutions for route planning and mobile guidance, users are benefiting from new, innovative ways to get to know and experience the Düsseldorf region while on holiday.
Benefiting a large market
Project researchers aimed to create a set of tools to enable mobility and independence, thus allowing blind and visually impaired people to experience the city like other tourists. The market for these devices is large. In Germany, there are over 145 000 blind people and 1.2 million people with a high degree of visual impairment. In the North Rhine-Westphalian region, there are 69 000 blind and visually impaired people. Globally, the number exceeds 45 million.
But it’s not just the blind that benefit from the Guide4Blind tool. As the purpose of the application is to promote the region, it provides all people with an opportunity to get to know their cities and natural habitats. For example, elderly people with physical disabilities and young children with attention deficit disorder or other learning disabilities will all find the interactive Guide4Blind tool beneficial.
A virtual handrail
The application relies heavily on audio ques. For instance, using a technique called ‘geo-fencing’, it provides routes consisting of a virtual corridor of just a few decimeters. To accomplish this, the system uses a complex technical mix of high-precision surveying, blind-oriented cartography, satellite-based positioning (and radio localisation when indoors) and radio frequency identification (RFID) based communication methods. When the user starts to deviate from this corridor, the device provides verbal instructions on how to get back on route.
In practice, the system works as a virtual handrail, allowing users to move freely about the city. For example, a blind tourist is now able to make their way through Soest’s historic Old Town using the Guide4Blind GPS system. The app also syncs with the city’s public transportation system, communicating with buses and guided tandem bike routes. The technology is now being rolled out across Germany.
Total investment and EU funding
Total investment for the project “Guide4Blind – Barrierefreie Tourismusanwendungen für Blinde und Sehbehinderte” is EUR 2 000 000, with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 1 000 000 through the North Rhine-Westphalia Operational Programme for the 2007-2013 programming period.