BlindSquare app will help visually impaired access businesses in Wellington
Wellington's retailers are embracing the opportunity to make the capital more accessible by installing a navigation system for the visually impaired.
It will be the first time international GPS-app, BlindSquare, will be used in New Zealand.
The app developed for the blind and visually impaired provides information to guide the person as they travel.
A matchbox sized iBeacon device will be located inside the doorway of some businesses in the city.
When a BlindSquare app-user is near the a shop, it broadcasts a Bluetooth signal that the BlindSquare app recognises and converts to a voice message on the user's iPhone.
The spoken description of the business includes its name, what goods and services it provides and the shop layout.
The information will be pre-programmed by the retailer and can be easily updated by them.
The app will also provides users with other information; such as the names of the roads they are walking along or where the bus stops are.
The 'Wellington BlindSquare Enabled' project is a partnership between Wellington City Council, the Blind Foundation, Radiola Smart Transit and BlindSquare.
Participation in the project was free for retailers and businesses were urged to take part.
The iBeacon would be provided for free and for the first couple of years the maintenance would also be looked after by the partners.
During phase one of the project, 200 iBeacons will be installed in Wellington CBD from the intersection of Lower Cuba St and Wakefield St, through to Cable Car Lane.
If the initial roll-out was successful, the project would likely expand in the CBD.
Thomas Bryan from the Blind Foundation said the iPhone navigation system will give customers who are blind the opportunity to explore the capital city independently.
"You don't always want to be asking for help," he said.
There were various navigation tools for outside but this was one of the first for inside.
Feedback to the foundation was that people were "excited" about the device that would let them know where things were located inside a building.
While they were designed to benefit people who are blind or visually impaired, it was free for anyone in Wellington, he said.
CQ Hotels Wellington has been trailing the device for a couple of months as part of its accessibility strategy.
The Cuba St hotels has worked with social change agency Be Accessible since 2012 to ensure its facilities are as accessible as possible for people with a range of disabilities.
General manager Olivier Lacoua said the iBeacons were working well and he planned to install more inside the hotel.
"The idea will be for someone who is visually impaired to be able to check in, get their key and make their way to the room."
First Retail Group client services manager Lorraine Nicholson said the technology was not intrusive and simple to use, which was appealing to retailers.
First Retail Group managing director Chris Wilkinson said BlindSquare would help users better connect and engage with the Capital - and its businesses.
"The system will deliver confidence to users - and provide an indicator to those in service roles, that their customers' may need extra care and attention. In time we'd also expect the public to pick up on this and similarly provide added care and consideration to those using the app."