Many vision impaired people are currently unable to travel independently. Bad journeys can mean being late for work or job interviews, and affect seeing friends and family. Though it is something many of us take for granted, independent travel is crucial to reduce isolation and poverty for vision impaired people.
In 2014, ustwo came together with the Royal London Society for Blind People’s (RLSB) Youth Forum to investigate how to empower vision impaired people to independently navigate London’s transport network, using the smartphone they have in their pocket.
The Youth Forum wanted to change the fact that there is currently no reliable and consistent way for vision impaired people to travel independently – different operators have different levels of service, and apps like Google Maps fall short when navigating indoors for example. Even when accessing TfL’s turn up and go assistance service, vision impaired people still need to rely on another person to get around – rather than being fully independent.
I avoid trying new routes on my own. It’s always very stressful.
Working together with RLSB’s Youth Forum, through our Invent Time programme, we trialled using Bluetooth beacons to communicate with user’s smartphones to direct them through the station. We then secured a trial in Pimlico Underground station in March 2015, which allowed us to validate Wayfindr as a solution the challenge.
From trials to date, Wayfindr knows that every time a vision impaired person independently travels to their desired destination it builds confidence and changes their perceptions of their own abilities.
The Open Standard
There is a pressing need to develop a consistent standard to be implemented across wayfinding systems. This will open up a world where vision impaired people are no longer held back by their sight loss.
The Wayfindr Standard consists of guidelines on how to best integrate Wayfindr in your built environment or digital navigation service, built on a foundation of rigorous user research. Wayfindr creates an experience for vision impaired people that is consistent, seamless and reliable, empowering them to move independently through their environment.
To make this a reality, in September 2015 we launched Wayfindr – a new nonprofit venture alongside the RLSB to create the first Open Standard for Audio-based Wayfinding. In December 2015 Wayfindr announced a major London Underground trial at Euston station, which enabled them to understand and validate how the Wayfindr standard works in a complex station.
Wayfindr also received the support of Google.org’s Global Impact Challenge: Disabilities with a $1m grant through RLSB. This will allow Wayfindr to expand the standard across other areas such as hospitals and retail, as well as exploring its global applications.
In May 2016 the Working Draft of the Wayfindr Open Standard was released. It was created using the findings from trials held with London Underground as well as research done by the Wayfindr team – you can learn more about the process here. We are now working on the next release, focusing on transport, which is being done in collaboration with members of the Wayfindr Community.
The Wayfindr community is a group of like-minded people and organisations who share our passion for empowering vision impaired people to independently navigate around the world. The community builds upon and strengthens the open standard together – by pooling their insights and expertise.