What Is a Phygital Experience and How Can It Improve the Accessibility of Your Venue?

What Is a Phygital Experience and How Can It Improve the Accessibility of Your Venue?

A blind woman benefits from the phygital experience of a venue. She follows tactile guide paths and uses the indoor navigation app Evelity to find her bearings.

What Is a Phygital Experience and How Can It Improve the Accessibility of Your Venue?

 

Have you ever come across the term “phygital experience”? It consists in building a bridge between the digital world and the physical world to offer users a unique interactive experience. 

Seeing that the digital world takes more and more space in our lives, you’ll soon be more familiar with phygital experiences. They can take place in all aspects of our everyday lives to make them easier: shopping malls, museums, intersections…

But there’s a category of people for whom phygital experiences aren’t just “regular” experiences. Indeed, for people with disabilities, they represent accessibility improvement. Phygital experiences actually combine the best of both worlds to remove accessibility barriers and foster inclusion. 

Let’s see what shapes phygital experiences can take to improve accessibility!

What is the meaning of phygital experience?

First, we need to understand what the concept of phygital is exactly. The word blends “physical” and “digital” to demonstrate how phygital combines both worlds. 

Phygital uses technology to connect the digital world with the physical world. The goal is to provide users with a unique and interactive experience. 

To put it simply, technology is a means at the service of users. It is anchored in the physical world to provide them with a little extra via digital solutions. 

Phygital is like a bridge interlinking both worlds for the benefit of users.

Example of a phygital experience

A perfect example of a phygital experience is the game “Pokémon GO”. Maybe you’ve chased Pokémons yourself or you’ve seen people looking ridiculous in catching ‘em all but having a lot of fun. 

The game, launched in 2016, used augmented and virtual reality and also geolocation so that users could catch Pokémons nearby with their smartphones. 

People just needed their smartphone’s camera and their GPS to chase Pokémons and increase their collection. Pokémons were at grabs near their place of work, bus stop, the streets…, everywhere around them.

This game created a whole new social and phygital experience. Users could be easily recognized as they were alone with their smartphones. But it didn’t prevent them from sharing tips between them about where to find the little monsters they all loved. 

They could all meet in the real world and not just behind a screen from the comfort of their home. Thus creating an interactive phygital experience.

What does a phygital experience entail for people with disabilities?

Through phygital experiences, accessibility and inclusion can go further. 

As you may already know, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) aims at preventing any form of discrimination against people with disabilities. It lists a series of requirements for all places of our everyday lives to be accessible to them: public venues, crossings with accessible pedestrian signals, places of work for employees with disabilities, public transportation, housing… 

But there may be limitations at what’s possible to achieve in terms of physical accessibility in complex infrastructures. Especially the ones that were built in the previous century. It may not be possible to refurbish a very old infrastructure as it would be too costly.

That’s the case of the New York City subway. It first operated in 1904. At that time, accessibility wasn’t considered when it was designed. Today, users with disabilities bear the consequences of such a lack of accessibility.

The Big Apple’s rapid transit is committed to improving accessibility. The MTA has even turned towards innovation to achieve this goal.

How Innovation Promises to Revolutionize Accessibility in the New York City Subway

In addition to planning the installation of physical accessibility equipment like elevators or access ramps, the MTA is currently testing the indoor navigation app Evelity for users with disabilities at the Jay St-MetroTech station

This app has especially been conceived to meet the needs of people with disabilities. It adapts to every user’s profile. 

This means that for wheelchair users, Evelity provides step-free routes. For blind and visually impaired people, the app provides step by step instructions thanks to their screen reader. 

In this situation, users with disabilities benefit from a phygital experience when using the subway. An experience tailored to their needs and capabilities. They have the best of both worlds in terms of accessibility.

Indeed, users with disabilities improve their mobility and still remain autonomous.

A phygital experience like this one enables them to have a more complete access to public transit. Especially in cases when technical or topographic barriers prevent it to be accessible to all through physical equipment. 

What are the benefits of implementing a phygital experience at your venue?

There are many benefits in creating an interactive phygital experience for people with disabilities:

Going further than the requirements of the ADA to be fully accessible.

Putting technology at the service of users with disabilities. It’s just a means to an end.

Having access to services. For example, the app Evelity provides geolocated cultural content in a museum in addition to navigation instructions.

Focusing on use and not just accessibility requirements and regulations. The goal is to be in the user’s shoes to understand their needs. But also how they walk around in a venue and how they use the equipment and services.

Giving users with disabilities back their rightful place in our society. People with disabilities are all around us. Plus, this doesn’t just concern the 61 million Americans with disabilities but all of us. It’s an opportunity to foster inclusion.

Check out a unique perspective on inclusion with this interview of Gabrielle Halpern, Doctor of philosophy:

Should We Say “Hybridization” or “Inclusion” Regarding People with Disabilities?

In what situations can a phygital experience enhance accessibility and inclusion?

Just like the ADA is enacted for all areas of our lives, phygital experiences can take place in each and one of them as well.

Pedestrians with disabilities

Let’s start with getting around in the city. When you’re blind or visually impaired, how can you know you’re in the right direction? 

Tokyo in Japan has responded to this question using tenji blocks. 

This consists of yellow tactile guide paths with a QR code. This tactile paving signage helps blind and visually impaired people get around at crossings, inside subway stations and in front of public venues. 

Round bumps indicate a traffic light, a train station entrance or the end of a platform and their parallel lines help them find their way.

The color yellow is important as it enlightens a visual contrast and thus can be better perceived by the visually impaired. 

Since the 1960s, blind and visually impaired people in Japan have been using this system. But it has been updated to help them find their bearings more easily: an app that scans QR codes set on tenji blocks was created.

Thanks to the shikAI app, people with vision disabilities can know where tenji blocks lead to and the remaining traveling distance.

Once again, it’s the combination of physical equipment and a digital solution that improves the accessibility of a city.

Users with disabilities

We’ve mentioned earlier Evelity for the New York City subway and its riders with disabilities. 

But such indoor navigation apps can be used at all types of complex public venues: shopping malls, hospitals, smart buildings, city halls, colleges and universities

Whether with old or new buildings, using technology to alleviate accessibility barriers can make a difference for people with disabilities. 

Phygital experiences provide them with the same opportunities as anybody else. They can go anywhere and have access to all services. There’s no limitation any longer. And all doors are and remain open.

Visitors with disabilities

Museums have always been dedicated to bringing culture to all, including people with disabilities. They’ve installed access ramps and lowered works of art for wheelchair visitors. They’ve provided tactile models so that blind and visually impaired people could touch them…

All these actions make art accessible. But museums have also turned to new technologies like augmented reality and virtual reality to both be accessible and provide their visitors with a unique interactive phygital experience.

For example, the Salle des Verres at the Louvre museum in Paris has chosen Tactile Studio, a French inclusive design agency promoting arts and culture for all, to create a phygital experience for their visitors.

It consists of a model of one of Henry II’s palaces capturing all the rooms and their furniture. It’s also equipped with a “sensitive” console for visitors to interact with the different rooms thanks to an interactive lighting system.

With this “sensitive” console, visitors can know more about the rooms of the palace and their history. They can also locate themselves in the palace.

This console acts as a mediation station: it has informative texts and pictograms for each room with infrared sensors. Visitors just have to pass their hand over the sensors to light up the rooms.

But there’s more: a sensory station with tactile and sonic exploration. The tactile orientation map for visitors enables them to find their location and the location of the artwork as it was during Henry II’s reign. 

Blind and visually impaired visitors can touch a model of a warrior’s helmet and immerse themselves in this artwork. They also have Braille texts with additional information.

All of this enables visitors with disabilities to immerse themselves in the France of Henry II and to interact with artworks. 

How to Make Museums More Accessible for People with Disabilities?

Another museum has also chosen a phygital experience for their visitors with disabilities: the Maison Victor Hugo in Paris, dedicated to the famous French writer.

Once again, we have Evelity, the indoor navigation app. But here, it does more than just guide visitors with disabilities from exhibitions to exhibitions. It also provides them with geolocated mediation content

Evelity also works as a guide providing visitors with explanations on the works they meet during their course.

A unique experience in order to better discover and understand the artworks. A successful and complete access to culture!

With phygital experiences, people with disabilities can step into a new world. A world where they can benefit from physical equipment and digital solutions to interact, find their way, learn, touch, hear and see. This enhances accessibility and inclusion of venues and places whatever they are. 

Phygital is a concept that can revolutionize their place in our society. They don’t have to be passive and be accompanied to go to a place. They can master their actions and mobility.

Want to know what technology can do to make the lives of people with disabilities easier? Check out these articles:

Artificial Intelligence and Accessibility: Examples of a Technology That Serves People with Disabilities

The Smartphone: a Revolution for the Blind and Visually Impaired!

Disability as an Innovation Driver for the Smart City

Published on May 20th, 2022

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A blind man uses the app Evelity to get around in the subway

Phygital experiences provide users with disabilities with the same opportunities as anybody else. They can go anywhere and have access to all services. There’s no limitation any longer. And all doors are and remain open.

writer

Carole Martinez

Carole Martinez

Content Manager

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The Ultimate Guide to Accessible Pedestrian Signals

The Ultimate Guide to Accessible Pedestrian Signals

The Ultimate Guide to Accessible Pedestrian Signals  Table of contents What are accessible pedestrian signals?Why do cities have accessible pedestrian signals?Who are APS for?How do audible traffic signals work exactly?What is pedestrian detection?Why are...

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on the accessibility market.

For more than 25 years, we have been developing architectural access solutions for buildings and streets. Everyday, we rethink today’s cities to transform them in smart cities accessible to everyone.

By creating solutions ever more tailored to the needs of people with disabilities, we push the limits, constantly improve the urban life and make the cities more enjoyable for the growing majority.

How Accessible Are the Audible Pedestrian Pushbuttons of Your Crossings?

How Accessible Are the Audible Pedestrian Pushbuttons of Your Crossings?

People crossing the street in New York City after pushing the button for the WALK signal

How Accessible Are the Audible Pedestrian Pushbuttons of Your Crossings?

Actuating audible pedestrian pushbuttons is the first step to crossing the street safely. They provide blind and visually impaired users audible information about the WALK and DON’T WALK signals. According to the signal, pedestrians know when it’s their turn to cross and when they need to wait.

Pushbutton-integrated accessible pedestrian signals are very common in the U.S. but how do audible pedestrian pushbuttons work exactly? What are the requirements for such a system? Does it properly meet the needs of the visually impaired? Is it really the best accessible solution for them?

Let’s unveil everything there is to know about audible pedestrian pushbuttons to make your city truly accessible and safe!

What are the benefits and disadvantages of audible pedestrian pushbuttons?

We’ve composed a list to help you comprehend what audible pedestrian pushbuttons do for blind and visually impaired pedestrians and the city itself.

BenefitsDisadvantages
Presence of a locator tone to indicate the beginning of the crosswalk.

Not all pushbuttons are equipped with one.

For those that are, this means continual noise pollution in the neighborhood.

Speakers integrated in the pushbutton: the sound information goes directly where users are standing.It’s more an issue that may rise than a disadvantage but the volume of the speakers needs to be adjusted according to the ambient sound.
The pushbutton can be easily activated for people with mobility impairments. And its required height makes it easier for blind and visually impaired people to locate it on the pole. In times of COVID-19, touching surfaces may contribute to the spreading of the virus. At the peak of the pandemic, many cities had to deactivate the pushbuttons of their APS.

The pushbutton simultaneously serves 2 purposes when actuated: 

It signalizes that pedestrians want to cross the street.

It provides audio information about the WALK/DON’T WALK signal for blind and visually impaired pedestrians.

There must be a high number of times when the pushbutton is activated by regular pedestrians who probably don’t need the audible information associated with it. Thus creating unnecessary noise pollution.

As you can see, audible pedestrian pushbuttons have their pros and their cons. Does the system work? Yes, it does: it helps blind and visually impaired users cross the street. 

How Do the Blind Safely Cross the Road?

But is there room for improvement regarding accessibility? Again, the answer is yes. Because you may have perceived it: one of the most challenging aspects of audible pedestrian pushbuttons is locating the crosswalk in the first place.

For people with vision disabilities, finding the beginning of the crosswalk can be difficult. Especially at intersections they’re not familiar with. How can you find the crosswalk and the pole where the pushbutton is installed when you can’t see? Yet, this step is necessary to activate the accessible pedestrian signals.

Seeing that the locator tones may not be found at all intersections, blind and visually impaired pedestrians may need extra help. Or another system. 

That’s where aBeacon steps in. It’s a third generation accessible pedestrian signal which means it can be used with or without being connected to pushbuttons. As cities and all categories of pedestrians are used to push the button to actuate the APS, it doesn’t affect their everyday lives. 

However, with aBeacon, users can activate it remotely with a remote control or a smartphone app. This enables them to rely on sound information to locate the beginning of the crosswalk.

Plus, the smartphone activation helps them find their bearings as they can select which crossing to activate in the destination menu. No risk of ending up on the wrong side of the avenue! After all, 89% of people with vision disabilities use a smartphone.

Such innovation can be a real asset for cities that want to be more connected. And that’s exactly what New York City has been experiencing. A Brooklyn intersection is currently testing aBeacon and the first user feedback is positive.

The aBeacon devices from both sides of the crossing are simultaneously activated to create a guiding sound corridor. It helps pedestrians with vision disabilities to cross without going off course. It works as a beacon for them.

Its high quality of sound and easy activation have been appreciated by blind and visually impaired pedestrians.

Why is aBeacon a Game Changer Regarding Accessible Pedestrian Signals?

An activation on demand dramatically reduces noise pollution for the neighborhoods as the residents living close by the equipped intersection in Brooklyn have been experiencing it. aBeacon is activated only by pedestrians who need it to cross. 

For all cities, these benefits are priceless. And this makes their crossings safe, accessible and as pleasant as they can be for all users. 

In addition, aBeacon can also collect data on the number of times it has been activated to let blind and visually impaired pedestrians cross the street. This can help cities better understand the needs of their visually impaired citizens when they’re getting around.

How do audible pedestrian pushbuttons work?

You already know that the point of accessible pedestrian signals is to dub the visual information related to traffic lights and their WALK / DON’T WALK signs. 

They provide audio information to let pedestrians with vision disabilities know when they can safely cross the street and when they need to wait. 

Locator tone

As mentioned above, locator tones don’t equip all intersections. They enable the visually impaired to know the pole location. 

Their volume isn’t high but their sound is continuous. Actually, their intensity depends on the ambient sound. 

According to the MUTCD, locator tones have a duration of 0.15 seconds or less, and shall repeat at 1-second intervals.

Vibrotactile arrow

Once blind and visually impaired pedestrians have reached the source of the sound emitted by the locator tone, they just need to locate the vibrotactile arrow on the pushbutton.

This tactile arrow points in the direction of travel on the crosswalk to guide pedestrians. To better serve its purpose, it needs to be installed within the width of the crosswalk or very near it and near the curb line. 

It also vibrates during the WALK signal in addition to the sound information emitted by the accessible pedestrian signals. This is particularly helpful for deafblind pedestrians as they rely on their sense of touch.

Pushbutton 

In the United States, many cities use pushbutton-integrated accessible pedestrian signals. This means that by pushing the button on the pole, visually impaired pedestrians actuate the APS. And other pedestrians signal their presence at the crossing.

In order to distinguish between both uses, to trigger the audible pedestrian pushbutton, blind and visually impaired people need to push the button for more than one second. If they press it a second time, they can hear the sound information again.

They have information on the signalization of the traffic lights but also on the street name they’re about to cross. 

When the button is pushed, traffic lights control is aware that a pedestrian is waiting to cross the street. It allows them to have long enough time to safely get across.

Pushbuttons actually serve two different purposes.

Speakers

With audible pedestrian pushbuttons, the speakers are integrated into them so that the sound information is broadcasted directly to where the pedestrians are waiting.

To conceive accessible intersections for blind and visually impaired people, you need to know everything that composes accessible pedestrian signals, including pushbuttons.

The ultimate guide to accessible pedestrian signals. I want it!

What are the requirements for audible pedestrian pushbuttons?

Three different laws and regulations run the requirements and guidelines of audible pedestrian pushbuttons:

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): this law aims at preventing any type of discrimination agains people with disabilities. Here, it requires accessible pedestrian signals to convey audio information to blind and visually impaired people. The emphasis is put on providing them with the same information as other pedestrians so that they can cross the street safely and with complete autonomy.

The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD): manual created by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). It concerns the installation and use of accessible pedestrian signals and what interests here: audible pedestrian pushbuttons.

The Proposed Accessibility Guidelines for Pedestrian Facilities in the Public Right-of-Way (PROWAG): as the name indicates, they are guidelines reviewed by an independent federal agency, the Access Board. Their goal is to enforce accessibility laws and provide technical assistance about APS.

Here are the main requirements for the location of audible pedestrian pushbuttons you need to know:

Within easy reach and easily activated (including for wheelchair users),

Located at a mountain height of approximately 3.5 feet above the sidewalk (but no more than 4 feet),

Located near each end of the crosswalks,

Positioned between 1.5 and 6 feet from the edge of the curb or pavement but no further than 10 feet from the edge of the curb.

Positioned with their face parallel to the crosswalk to be used,

Obvious regarding the crosswalk they’re associated with.

Please note that if the pushbuttons on a corner can’t be separated by at least 10 feet, they can be installed on the same pole. But they both need vibrotactile arrows to each indicate the direction of travel and have a speech message for the WALK signal.

What’s essential in this situation is to avoid any sort of confusion for blind and visually impaired pedestrians. They need to know which audible pedestrian pushbutton to actuate in order to reach their destination.

But again, this may still be confusing for those who aren’t familiar with this type of intersection. That’s the reason why this situation is an exception and not the standard. It’s best to avoid it if possible as pedestrians may encounter difficulties on how to apprehend the intersection. 

They may feel like they’re not safe. If it happens to be the case, a lot of vulnerable pedestrians tend to find a different route in order to avoid a difficult and stressful intersection. How would you feel if you had to walk longer just to be safe?

You now have a glimpse into audible pedestrian pushbuttons, their use and their requirements to be accessible for blind and visually impaired pedestrians. As you can see, pushbuttons work since they activate APS but locating them and the poles they’re on remain one of the most challenging issues for users with vision disabilities. 

You need to ask yourself how accessible pushbuttons are and what can you do to improve this system. It may be the perfect time to try an innovation like New York City has done.

Want to know more about pedestrian safety? Check out these articles: 

Everything You Need to Know About Accessible Pedestrian Signals Regulation in New York City

Pedestrian Safety: Are Your Crossings Safe for Visually Impaired and Blind People? 

Removing Traffic Lights vs Pedestrian Safety: a Guide to Inclusive Streets

Published on May 6th, 2022

media

An audible pedestrian signal with "push button, wait for walk signal" written on it

For people with vision disabilities, finding the beginning of the crosswalk can be difficult. Especially at intersections they’re not familiar with. How can you find the crosswalk and the pole where the pushbutton is installed when you can’t see?

writer

Carole Martinez

Carole Martinez

Content Manager

stay updated

Get the latest news about accessibility and the Smart City.

other articles for you

share our article!

more articles

The Ultimate Guide to Accessible Pedestrian Signals

The Ultimate Guide to Accessible Pedestrian Signals

The Ultimate Guide to Accessible Pedestrian Signals  Table of contents What are accessible pedestrian signals?Why do cities have accessible pedestrian signals?Who are APS for?How do audible traffic signals work exactly?What is pedestrian detection?Why are...

NEVER miss the latest news about the Smart City.

Sign up now for our newsletter.

Unsubscribe in one click. The information collected is confidential and kept safe.

powered by okeenea

The French leading company

on the accessibility market.

For more than 25 years, we have been developing architectural access solutions for buildings and streets. Everyday, we rethink today’s cities to transform them in smart cities accessible to everyone.

By creating solutions ever more tailored to the needs of people with disabilities, we push the limits, constantly improve the urban life and make the cities more enjoyable for the growing majority.