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

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

Artificial intelligence is a technology that enhances accessibility

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

Many of us think that artificial intelligence represents an abstract and futuristic notion we only see in sci-fi films with humanoid robots and holograms. However it’s more and more grounded in our reality reaching various fields and categories of people including people with disabilities. Artificial intelligence truly revolutionizes accessibility and inclusion! Thanks to AI technology solutions, people with disabilities can drastically improve their everyday lives. 

We had previously seen that smartphones are a powerful tool that help users with a visual impairment. Indeed, many apps enable them to remain autonomous. For example, thanks to Seeing AI, visually impaired people can easily read their mail by placing documents under the smartphone camera. AI technology can apply to any type of disability profile. For instance, people with reduced mobility can control everything at home just by using their voice with a virtual personal assistant such as Amazon Alexa.

Let’s take a look at AI and how it can enhance accessibility thanks to a few examples of innovative solutions! The future starts now!

 

What is artificial intelligence and how does it work regarding accessibility?

Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to smart machines or algorithms that are capable of performing cognitive tasks usually made by humans. This includes different technology solutions that mimic humans and use logic from playing chess to solving equations. Machine learning is one of the technologies that is part of AI: when algorithms are exposed to more data, they can learn and improve from it in order to anticipate consumers’ needs. For example, Google uses machine learning: its algorithms collect what Internet users searched and what they liked on social networks in order to provide more personalized search results and recommendations. 

Nearly 4 billion people in the world use Google search engine, therefore AI, which is perceived as a social good. Anybody can have access to it including people with disabilities. Technology in general and artificial intelligence in particular have a key role in accessibility. It’s not just about finding the latest innovations but mostly about providing a solution at the service of a category of people in order to improve their lives. What can AI do towards accessibility?

It can remove accessibility barriers through different solutions:

⊗ Image recognition for people with a visual impairment,

⊗ Facial recognition for people with a visual impairment,

⊗ Lip-reading recognition for people with a hearing impairment,

⊗ Text summarization for people with a mental impairment,

⊗ Real-time captioning or translations for people with a hearing impairment or even people who don’t speak the language.

AI has a huge impact on people with disabilities’ everyday lives: a person with a mental impairment can easily comprehend the world around him thanks to text summarization. What may at first be a complicated message to decipher turns out to be an easy-to-understand text. Things that at first were difficult or impossible for them are now easily accessible on a daily basis. AI enables people with disabilities to step into a world where their difficulties are understood and taken into account. Technology adapts and helps transform the world into an inclusive place with artificial intelligence accessibility. There is a certain sense of equality as AI puts everybody, with or without disabilities, at the same level.

 

What are the benefits of artificial intelligence regarding accessibility for people with disabilities?

We’ve seen the main points regarding AI accessibility but concretely, where is AI put into action to improve people with disabilities’ lives? How does AI help them remain autonomous? Let’s focus on 4 major situations where AI adds value:

Communicating with others and being connected

Depending on the type of disability and profile, communicating with others can be a challenge. The same holds true for staying connected to others in a world that’s more and more digitized with the growing importance of social media and our dependence to the Internet. But technology and AI leave no one behind and can be at the service of people with disabilities. A lot of apps use artificial intelligence to favor accessibility.

For blind or visually impaired people:

 VoiceOver: a screen reader directly integrated on iPhones. Although its main use is to enunciate any email or textual message, VoiceOver also uses AI to describe apps icons, the battery level and even in part images. 

 TalkBack: the equal of VoiceOver for Android smartphones. It enables users to fully use their smartphones.

 Siri: iPhones virtual assistant. Thanks to voice control, users simply have to enunciate their request: from doing a Google search or dictating a text message to send to a friend. People with a visual impairment can easily use Siri and stay in touch with others.

 Cortana: a virtual assistant created by Microsoft and implemented on Windows. It helps blind or visually impaired users to navigate on their computer using simply their voice. In a sense, it’s similar to Siri.

 Google Assistant: an app activated by voice control. Users can easily set up an alarm or manage their schedule, the same way as Siri.

For deaf or hard of hearing people:

 Virtual assistants like Siri and Google Assistant for the users to fully use their smartphones and be connected to others.

 Ava: an instant transcription app that uses AI to instantly transcribe the conversation of a group of people. Its algorithm adds punctuation, the name of the person who is talking and the necessary vocabulary from the user’s dictionary. An easy way for people with a hearing impairment to be included and to follow a conversation with several people without lip-reading. 

 RogerVoice: a French instant transcription app for group conversations available in 90 languages. It works the same way as Ava.

For people with physical disabilities:

⊗ Virtual assistants like Siri, Google Assistant and Google Voice Access: people with reduced mobility can use their smartphone by voice command. Google Voice Access was especially created for people with reduced dexterity.

⊗ IFTTT: an app that connects other apps so that the user with poor dexterity can use all his smartphone’s functionalities without struggling. It creates combinations with the apps to automatically perform tasks such as reading an email aloud and sending a tweet.

Even people with speech impediments can benefit from AI technology with the app Voiceitt. Thanks to machine learning, Voiceitt can easily understand people with brain injuries or Parkinson’s and whose speech may first seem difficult to apprehend. This app normalizes their speech to create an output of audio or text so that people with speech impediments can still communicate with others and be understood.

Of course, AI apps and smartphones aren’t the only way for people with disabilities to communicate and to be connected to others. Web accessibility keeps improving to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) thus providing the same access and services to everybody regardless of their disabilities. 

Indeed designing an accessible website can be quite tricky but AI technology turns out to be a game-changer. A site’s design is scanned and analyzed thanks to machine learning. It can then improve its accessibility through many points:

⊗ A facial recognition with an AI software to replace CAPTCHAs that can be difficult to find for people with a visual impairment,

⊗ A keyboard navigation optimization via the “Tab” button for people with physical disabilities,

⊗ A voice-recognition or a speech-recognition technology like Google’s Project Euphonia for people with speech impairments to use the Internet thanks to sounds and gestures,

 Audio descriptions content for people with a visual impairment,

 Captions and translations of online videos for people with a hearing impairment like Microsoft Translator,

 Readjustments of graphic elements such as fonts, colors and spacing for people with a visual impairment,

⊗ A built-in library of idioms, slang and phrases that are unusually used for people with a mental impairment.

Machine learning mimics a browser, the same way it mimics humans, to automatically adapt what’s on the screen and make it accessible for people with disabilities. Artificial intelligence technology fully enhances accessibility and inclusion.

Getting around

For people with disabilities, mobility proves to be one of the most challenging issues to overcome. How can wheelchair users get around in the city in an autonomous and serene way when they constantly need to be aware of the location of lowered pavements and accessible toilets? In our article How to Help People with Disabilities Get a Better Experience on the Subway?, we saw that people with disabilities need to rigorously prepare every trip they make. Luckily for them, a lot of navigation apps based on AI technology can help them gain more autonomy and more spontaneity when they’re getting around.

 Google Maps: one of the most used GPS apps around the world. Visually impaired people or wheelchair users can prepare their trip in advance and visualize their route and the best means of transportation to use according to their profile. Thanks to the “wheelchair accessible” option, wheelchair users can know where ramps and elevators are located in the city. Plus the feature “accessible places” is useful for them to have more information about the layout of many premises: entrance, parking spots, restrooms, seating arrangements… This feature is also used by people with a visual impairment to find the exact location of a building entrance.

Moovit: a great app for people who use public transportation. It provides real-time traffic information and turns out to be helpful for people with a visual impairment when voice announcements aren’t activated on the bus for example. 

Wheelmap: it lists and maps all accessible public venues (restaurants, shops, cafés…). Even users can add data and information concerning the accessibility level of places. 

Soundscape: an app that describes blind people their surroundings with audio 3D technology. They can easily be aware of the points of interest near them and the intersections. Quite convenient to enjoy the city.

Evelity: the first indoor wayfinding app for people with disabilities. Regardless of their profile, they can easily navigate inside complex and busy places such as subway networks, colleges and universities, shopping malls, stadiums… Evelity works like a GPS and gives step by step instructions. It’s tailor-made to fit the users’ profiles and their needs:

→ Visually impaired users can set it up to work with VoiceOver and TalkBack screen readers so that they can have audio instructions.

→ Hearing impaired users can use text descriptions and icons.

→ Wheelchair users and people with reduced mobility benefit from optimized routes.

→ People with a cognitive impairment have simplified interfaces.

This innovative navigation app for people with disabilities is the perfect example of AI technology that enhances accessibility in general and people’s everyday lives in particular. 

Self-driving cars (also called autonomous cars or driverless cars) represent a new solution for the mobility of people with disabilities, regardless of their disabilities since they can help them get around more independently. People don’t need to ask a relative or to book a service when they need to get around by car. Self-driving cars use sensors, cameras, radars and AI to get to the chosen destination. Their algorithms collect all the necessary data about their environment like traffic lights, curbs, pedestrians…, by inputting Google Maps and Google Street View. Many companies from the car industry test or develop self-driving cars.

Living independently 

AI technology concerns any field and can thus enhance accessibility even at home. Virtual assistants can improve everybody’s lives and it’s particularly striking with people with disabilities. We’d previously talked about Siri on iPhones. But at home, with smart speakers like Amazon Echo with Alexa and Google Home with Google Assistant, people with disabilities can control everything by voice: from turning on the lights to setting up an alarm or listening to music in the living room. 

Any home object can be connected which means that a blind person can set up their oven just by asking Alexa or that a person with reduced dexterity can lower a room temperature just by using their voice. 

Even before arriving home, people with disabilities can still control their virtual assistants at home thanks to the app IFTTT. It connects different apps together, including virtual assistants like Alexa, to create combinations called “applets”. It’s very convenient for people with reduced dexterity: any single task can automatically be done by voice control. They can for example increase their thermostat on their way from work to be at ease once they arrive home. 

Having a connected smart home can sometimes be life saving: if a person with disabilities falls, a system previously set up can call up emergency services. People with disabilities can thus live alone knowing that they’re safe if something happens.

AI technology solutions enable people with disabilities to gain more autonomy and be comfortable in their own homes. AI takes accessibility to the next level. 

Accessing the same services as anybody

Inclusivity means that everybody has the right to access any services regardless of their profiles and disabilities. Blind people can read thanks to Braille and hearing impaired people can enjoy a movie thanks to subtitles. Here are a few non-exhaustive examples of artificial intelligence technology at the service of accessibility:

Braille AI Tutor: an innovative solution to compensate the lack of Braille teachers. Thanks to AI-based speech recognition and gamification, blind students can learn Braille more independently. Education represents a fundamental right. Accessing to an education is key for blind people to find a job and be included in society.

Seeing AI on iOS: an app designed for visually impaired people that can read and describe all types of documents placed under the smartphone camera such as banknotes or mail. It can even recognize images, colors and faces thus providing details on people’s emotions. 

Lookout on Android: the equivalent app of Seeing AI. It has a Quick Scan Mode that can skim through a text.

Google’s Project Guideline: an AI-based solution that enables blind people to run by themselves. With just a harness around their waist, their Android smartphone connected to it and headphones, blind people can run without any external help following a guideline painted on the ground. 

Accessible documents thanks to Microsoft Accessibility Checker or Adobe Accessibility Checker: students and employees with disabilities can still have access to information in order to succeed.

The medical industry also benefits from AI with robot-assisted technology for more precision during surgery or data collection to provide a more accurate diagnosis. But for people with disabilities, this can represent a huge progress in providing a better quality of life. The most striking example is the invention of an exoskeleton powered with AI that enables paralyzed people to use their legs again: they can stand up and walk. A breakthrough that’s not only technological but also medical for people with motor impairments!

These are just a few of the AI technologies used to improve people with disabilities’ lives in various fields as many more solutions are available and developed whether by startups or large corporations such as Google and Microsoft. By having a user-centered approach, artificial intelligence technologies use inclusive design to conceive solutions that best meet the needs of people with disabilities to enhance accessibility. Indeed, AI technology enables them to gain more autonomy whether they’re at home enjoying a movie with subtitles or at work reading an accessible document making the world more accessible and inclusive to them.

Want to know more about apps that people with disabilities use in their everyday lives? Read our articles: 

5 Must-Have Apps for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People in 2020

13 Must-Have Apps for Blind or Visually Impaired People in 2020

9 Must-Have Apps for People with Physical Disabilities in 2020

Posted on March 5, 2021

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

AI enables people with disabilities to step into a world where their difficulties are understood and taken into account.

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Carole Martinez

Content Manager junior

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How to Guarantee a Seamless Mobility Chain to Users with Disabilities?

How to Guarantee a Seamless Mobility Chain to Users with Disabilities?

How to Guarantee a Seamless Mobility Chain to Users with Disabilities?Whether you are a subway network operator, an architect, a roadway manager or a museum director, guaranteeing a seamless mobility chain to your users isn’t the conundrum you’d expect. Having an...

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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.

How to Guarantee a Seamless Mobility Chain to Users with Disabilities?

How to Guarantee a Seamless Mobility Chain to Users with Disabilities?

The beginning of a mobility chain as users are entering a train station

How to Guarantee a Seamless Mobility Chain to Users with Disabilities?

Whether you are a subway network operator, an architect, a roadway manager or a museum director, guaranteeing a seamless mobility chain to your users isn’t the conundrum you’d expect.

Having an accessible and uninterrupted mobility chain enables people with disabilities to remain autonomous during their trips. A visually impaired person needs to be able, among other things, to find the subway station, go to the platform and make their connection by themself. The same applies to a wheelchair user. The curbs need to be lowered so that they can enjoy the city without any difficulties.

There’s a whole range of solutions that can guarantee people with disabilities, regardless of their profile, a real autonomy.

In this article, we’ll explain to you all the links that constitute the mobility chain so that you can set up easy devices for the benefit of your users!

 

A continuous mobility chain: a major issue

For people with disabilities, getting around can prove to be a major challenge. Any obstacles or barriers on their way can prevent them from getting around in a spontaneous way and therefore damages their autonomy, ruining, to a certain extent, their everyday lives. That’s where the mobility chain takes place.

The mobility chain can be summed up through these various stages:

1. Preparing your trip;

2. Using sidewalks and pedestrian crossings;

3. Using public transportation;

4. Coming up to the building and locating the main entrance;

5. Locating the adapted path to reach the chosen service;

6. Using horizontal and vertical circulations;

7. Reaching the chosen service, communicating with the staff;

8. Locating the adapted path to leave and exit the building.

We can see that the mobility chain forms part of accessibility. It truly is essential for people with disabilities since a continuous mobility chain enables them to move around more freely. Not having to ask someone for help when there are existing solutions so that they can manage by themselves turns out to be primordial for them.

A mobility chain is efficient when all of its links are connected to each other so that users can have a smooth trip without any obstacles: users go from point A to reach point C. Consequently, point B needs to be able to link A and C together. There can be many possible combinations in just one place. This is particularly striking with multimodal transit hubs such as a bus station with access to bus platforms, train platforms, information desk, city public transport… All the possible destinations need to be taken into account in order for the mobility chain to be covered in full. Every link has a role to play and if there’s one that’s broken, it’s the whole mobility chain that’s paralyzed.

On a larger scale, an optimal mobility chain helps build an inclusive and supportive city. A true challenge for a Smart City that has to welcome everybody including people with disabilities. But cities all over the world keep innovating to provide their citizens with safe and efficient mobility options. This happens to be the case with MaaS, a Finnish mobility transport platform, that facilitates the lives of both users and urban designers.

 

What are the solutions to implement for a seamless mobility chain?

Being a hotel or shop manager, nothing is more rewarding than a satisfied customer. Because obviously, a customer who had a good experience in your establishment is likely to come back and tell others about it. Whatever your establishment may be, public or private, taking into account the needs of your customers or visitors with disabilities will be beneficial for your activity. 

The same applies to cities which are committed in providing their inhabitants and tourists with the best possible experience. Roadways and public transportation have a key role in the image they send back to their users.

The first step consists in checking on the continuity of horizontal and vertical circulations:

⊗ Large doors and pathways;

⊗ Removing steps or offsets;

⊗ Removing upright obstacles;

⊗ Visual and tactile contrasting elements to limit traffic zones;

⊗ Securing stairs;

⊗ Creating alternatives to stairs: ramps or slopes, elevators or escalators.

Here is now a summary of different devices or solutions of equivalent effect that you need to implement to guarantee your users a seamless mobility chain:

For roadways: 

⊗ Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) such as aBeacon designed by French company Okeenea;

⊗ Tactile ground surface indicators (TGSI);

⊗ Guiding paths;

⊗ Visual information for people with a hearing impairment;

⊗ Lowered curbs for wheelchair users.

Accessible Pedestrian Signals, also known as audible signals, still remain the safest way for blind or visually impaired people to cross the road. They can easily be activated on demand with a remote control or a smartphone thanks to MyMoveo app (available on both Android and iOS).

For public transportation (subway, bus, bus and train stations): 

⊗ Audio beacons like NAVIGUEO+ HIFI;

⊗ Secured stairs: handrails and contrasting non-slip stairs;

⊗ Guide paths;

⊗ Visible, readable and easily understandable signage: pictograms and Braille;

⊗ Visual information for people with a hearing impairment; 

⊗ Removable access ramps on buses;

⊗ Indoor wayfinding apps like Evelity: New York City subway chose Okeenea’s app for a test in real conditions. 

To activate audio beacons on demand, people with a visual impairment use the same devices than those used for Accessible Pedestrian Signals. Quite convenient! 

For public venues:

⊗ Parking spaces for people with reduced mobility, including wheelchair users;

⊗ Audio beacons;

⊗ Amplification systems or induction loop systems;

⊗ Secured stairs: handrails and contrasting non-slip stairs;

⊗ Elevators or escalators;

⊗ Visible, readable and easily understandable signage: pictograms and Braille;

⊗ Indoor wayfinding apps like Evelity: Luma Foundation in Arles, France chose Evelity for its visitors.

In a building such as a museum, metres and metres of guide paths can distort the architecture and the design of a place. An innovative solution like Evelity is particularly relevant! It fits in all types of places and buildings and provides a tailor-made experience to its users, whatever their profile may be.

No matter what activity you’re in, the training of your staff happens to be a true asset regarding the satisfaction of people with disabilities’ needs. They could thus benefit from a good experience and would be more likely to come back to your place or use public transport again. 

Setting up these devices, you’ll guarantee your users with disabilities a continuous mobility chain. Being able to get around in a spontaneous, safe and autonomous way makes a difference for people with disabilities!

 

Would you like to know more about accessibility? Find out more articles to learn all the good practices that other cities have already implemented:

How Cities in America Communicate Efficiently about Accessible Pedestrian Signals: Good Examples to Follow

How Can Shopping Malls Be Accessible to People with Disabilities?

How to Help People with Disabilities Get a Better Experience on the Subway?

Public Transport Information Accessibility: 5 Solutions for Deaf or Hard of Hearing Users

 

 

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People getting around in a subway platform in New York City

A mobility chain is efficient when all of its links are connected to each other so that users can have a smooth trip without any obstacles: users go from point A to reach point C.

writer

Carole Martinez

Content Manager junior

stay updated

Get the latest news about accessibility and the Smart City.

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follow us!

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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.

A World Tour of Best Practices for a Subway Truly Accessible to All | Summary of a French Study

A World Tour of Best Practices for a Subway Truly Accessible to All | Summary of a French Study

The entrance of a subway station in Madrid

A World Tour of Best Practices for a Subway Truly Accessible to All | Summary of a French Study

Providing a safe and accessible service for all passengers is a major issue for all transit agencies throughout the world. That’s why, when we discovered the brilliant study by the French department’s accessibility branch on subway accessibility in the key cities around the world, it seemed essential to us to share it with you!

It is estimated that 30 to 40% of the population experience difficulties in using public transport. This means that accessibility is not restricted to people with disabilities, and even less to wheelchair users alone, contrary to what The Guardian suggested in its 2017 ranking of the most accessible subway networks. Since then, the French department’s accessibility branch published a study* which examines the accessibility of 42 subway located in 25 countries. This nuanced report discusses the concept of “accessible subway” and highlights the positive initiatives put in place to facilitate access to the subway for all those who encounter mobility limitations. We have produced a summary for you, supplemented with examples from our experience, because yes, we know subway accessibility like the back of our hands!

 

30 to 40% of the population facing barriers in accessing the subway

Taking the subway is more complex than it looks. This implies a chain of actions for which many travelers may encounter brakes or obstacles:

⊗ Preparing your route,

⊗ Obtaining real-time information about the correct functioning of accessibility equipment and any disturbances on the network,

⊗ Locating access to the subway station,

⊗ Going down into the station,

⊗ Obtaining a transport ticket,

⊗ Requesting information or communicating with staff,

⊗ Going through security gates,

⊗ Walking and finding your way inside the station to reach the right platform,

⊗ Waiting in safety until the arrival of the train,

⊗ Getting on board,

⊗ Finding a seat or support bar to maintain balance throughout the trip,

⊗ Getting off at the right station,

⊗ Walking and finding your way inside the station to reach your connection or the desired exit,

⊗ Going through the exit gates and

⊗ Going up towards the road.

Beyond people living with a physical, sensory, mental or psychological disability, many travelers encounter difficulties for one or more stages of the travel chain. According to various studies, they represent 30 to 40% of public transport users. These are the elderly, people with a temporary disability due to injury or illness, pregnant women, obese people, people of small stature, people who are illiterate or do not master the English language, people with young children or even those burdened with packages or luggage.

For more details on the difficulties encountered by subway users according to their disability and the solutions provided by the transit operators, we invite you to read our article:

How to Help People with Disabilities Get a Better Experience on the Subway?

 

An accessible subway, what is it?

The British daily The Guardian published in 2017 the ranking of 7 major subway systems in the world according to their accessibility level. Paris took last place behind Washington DC, Los Angeles, Tokyo, New York City, Barcelona and London. A very severe score for the French capital, which, despite the impossibility of making most of its metro stations accessible to wheelchair users, is doing its best to take into account the other disabilities on the Parisian metro system.

It is from this observation that the French department’s accessibility branch launched a study on the accessibility of 42 subway systems around the world. The data collected is uneven and does not allow for a ranking, which would be senseless. But this study questions the notion of “accessible subway system”.

1st lesson: physical accessibility for people in wheelchairs remains the top achievement for a subway system to claim to be “accessible”. This includes installing elevators, ramps, lowering floors, and reducing or eliminating gaps between trains and platforms. Then come the visual and audio information systems inside the trains which benefit everyone but even more so to people with visual or hearing disabilities. But overall accessibility to all disabilities requires attention to every detail throughout the travel chain. Thus, poorly thought out new equipment risks ruining all the efforts made upstream. 

2nd lesson: other measures exist but they are far from being generalized and little valued on the various communication media of subway systems. Improving visual signage, installing audio beacons, induction loops, accessible vending machines and entry gates, training staff and developing wayfinding applications adapted to different disabilities are just as important for successful accessibility.

 

Inaccessibility is not inevitable

The age of infrastructure is often mentioned to explain its inaccessibility. But the oldest subway systems are not equal in terms of accessibility. It appears that Paris comes bottom of the class with only 9 wheelchair accessible stations out of 303. Older subway systems do much better: London (1863), Boston (1897) or even Athens (1869). Other subway systems inaugurated before 1930 also perform well in terms of accessibility: Berlin (1902), Madrid (1919), Barcelona (1924) and Tokyo (1927). 

Although New York City subway system shows much better performance than the Paris metro, it remains among the lowest percentages of any major transit system in the world. Only 119 of 472 (25%) of all of the subway system’s stations are fully accessible to wheelchair users. In comparison, Boston’s MBTA subway and the Chicago “L”, which are as old or older, have more accessible subway stations. However, 70 more New York City subway stations should be accessible by 2024. This would allow one of every two to four stations on every line to be accessible, so that all non-accessible stops would be a maximum of two stops from an accessible station.

Most of the stations were built before wheelchair access was a requirement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. Since then, elevators have been constructed in new stations and stations that required little modification to meet ADA standards have been upgraded. In addition, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) selected 100 “key stations” to be conformed to ADA requirements when they are being renovated.

According to the MTA’s definition, a fully accessible station must have the following facilities:

⊗ Elevators or ramps,

⊗ Handrails on ramps and stairs,

⊗ Large-print and tactile-braille signs,

⊗ Audio and visual information systems,

⊗ Accessible station booth windows,

⊗ Accessible MetroCard Vending Machines,

⊗ Accessible service entry gates,

⊗ Platform-edge warning strips,

⊗ Platform gap modifications or bridge plates to reduce or eliminate the gap between trains and platforms,

⊗ Telephones at an accessible height with volume control,

⊗ Accessible restrooms at stations with restrooms.

The MTA also provides training to its employees to better assist riders with disabilities. On the other hand, training is delivered to riders with disabilities themselves, their families, and mobility specialists.

 

Original initiatives to include all disabilities

With a few exceptions such as Marseille, Rome or Beijing, subways built after 1970 are generally wheelchair accessible. In most stations, there are elevators, access ramps, widened doors and seats reserved for people with reduced mobility. Obstacles persist to board the trains. Human assistance may be necessary.

Other initiatives are emerging to facilitate travel, orientation and communication for other travelers with disabilities, whether visual, hearing, intellectual, psychological or cognitive. Far from being still generalized, they are nevertheless very interesting sources of inspiration for transit operators.

Adapted materials to plan a route according to one’s disability

Even more than for the general population, planning their itinerary is a crucial step for people with disabilities. Identifying their route and any difficulties, knowing the operating status of access facilities, all this requires appropriate tools. The first step is of course to make all digital media accessible, websites and mobile applications.

Digital Accessibility: Why? For Whom? How?

But paper based materials are not to be neglected. Thus, the London tube provides a collection of maps adapted to different disability situations: large print, tactile, audio, step-free maps and even tunnel maps for claustrophobic people.

In Paris and Toulouse, educational materials have been developed in the form of card games and other fun devices for people with intellectual disabilities to familiarize themselves with the network.

Public Transport: Accessibility Solutions, Also for the Intellectual Disability 

Audio beacons to locate entrances

Audio beacons allow blind or visually impaired people to locate entrances to subway stations thanks to the source of the sound. They are triggered a few meters away using a remote control or a smartphone application. The elevators of the Rennes metro in France have been equipped with audio beacons since it was built in 2002. Today, audio beacons can be found in Paris, Lyon, Prague, Helsinki and perhaps other cities as well.

Tactile guide paths to mark the routes

Guidance or directional tactile paving allows visually impaired people and anyone with orientation difficulties to get from one point to another without deviating. They are found on many subway systems such as Brussels, Berlin, Madrid, Barcelona, ​​Santiago de Chile or Tokyo. To provide effective guidance, these should preferably be coupled with audio signage or a smartphone wayfinding application.

Indoor guidance applications for smartphones

Despite the lack of a GPS signal inside subway stations, wayfinding applications adapted to different disabilities are gradually spreading. They make it possible to calculate a route in a closed area adapted to the various mobility limitations of the users. The Evelity solution is already installed in the Marseille metro.

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

Vending machines adapted to all disabilities

Lowering vending machines so that they can be used by people in wheelchairs or short stature has become the rule on many subway networks. However, these machines often remain inaccessible to blind or visually impaired people, to people who are illiterate or do not speak the language of the country, or even to those with an intellectual disability. Thus, interfaces should be designed with all of these restrictions in mind. Text to speech is an option to be implemented, as in Paris or Barcelona.

Pictures, symbols and pictograms

In order to help people who are illiterate or have an intellectual disability to find their way around, some operators have designed signage which associates a distinct image with each station name. 

This work has already been carried out on the subway networks in Mexico City, Fukuoka in Japan, Recife in Brazil, and Toulouse in France.

Braille signs

International standards for elevators require button marking in Braille and prismatic-numbers, which is very useful for visually impaired people to select their floor. The information in Braille sometimes available on the platforms, as in Washington DC, Chicago or Santiago de Chile, would on the other hand have every interest in being replaced by audio information, much more universal. Indeed, Braille has three major drawbacks:

1. It is difficult to locate for a person who cannot see or has low vision;

2. Serious problems with cleanliness, when touching it, can risk spreading bacteria or viruses such as COVID-19;

3. The proportion of people able to read Braille remains very low.

Audio information addresses all people with visual impairments, but also intellectual or understanding difficulties.

Tactile maps

Tactile maps for the visually impaired can be found on some subway networks such as Paris, Brussels, New York City and Tokyo. For the same reasons as Braille information, these are not very appropriate. On the other hand, tactile maps on paper can be made available to users so that they can consult them in the comfort of their home or the premises of an association. These will allow them to better understand their environment and therefore to find their way more easily.

Staff training to provide adequate assistance

Despite the accessibility improvements, certain situations continue to require human assistance, for example in case of equipment failure or network disruption. This assistance is widely present in London, Paris, Brussels, New York City, or Saint Petersburg. And in order to be able to provide effective assistance, the staff concerned are specifically trained to support people with disabilities.

The French study from the department’s accessibility branch on subway ACCESSIBILITY IN MAJOR WORLDWIDE cities shows us that accessibility has generally improved a lot for people in wheelchairs but is still struggling to become widespread for other disabilities. In addition, access to information on available facilities and suitable route planners is sorely lacking. Hence the interest in surfing open data to develop digital solutions that meet everyone’s specific needs!

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The entrance of a subway station in Paris

The British daily The Guardian published in 2017 the ranking of 7 major subway systems in the world according to their accessibility level. Paris took last place behind Washington DC, Los Angeles, Tokyo, New York City, Barcelona and London.

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Lise Wagner

Lise Wagner

Accessibility Expert

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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.

Creating an Accessible and Barrier-Free Society through Inclusive Design: a Constant Renewal

Creating an Accessible and Barrier-Free Society through Inclusive Design: a Constant Renewal

Creating an Accessible and Barrier-Free Society through Inclusive Design: a Constant Renewal

 

Inclusive design has a major role in enhancing accessibility. Though both concepts don’t exactly encompass the same ideas, they are undeniably linked together because of their complementarity. Accessibility consists in removing the present obstacles whereas inclusive design consists in creating solutions that from the beginning are perfectly tailored to the needs of several profiles of people: a person with reduced mobility for whom it’ll be easier to use an elevator in a shopping mall or a person with a visual impairment who needs a contrasted signage in a subway station for their getting around in complete autonomy for example.

Therefore accessibility can be achieved through an inclusive design with a human-centered approach. Putting people first and focusing on their needs permits to respond adequately and to favor their inclusion in society.

What’s better than a society which caters to the needs of all its citizens? Inclusive design offers a wide range of possibilities for cities to help them create an accessible and barrier-free society in several areas whether it concerns the services they provide such as public transportation but also in their architecture with buildings and parks. In addition, culture happens to be one of the first fields to have considered inclusive design and is showing the way to others. 

The sky’s the limit as the following examples of accessibility achieved through inclusive design will demonstrate!

 

Inclusive design, universal design and accessibility: an inevitable triptych 

In order to perfectly comprehend what inclusive design embraces, let’s focus at first on its definition and those of universal design and accessibility since the three are often intertwined together.

⊗ Inclusive design: making a product or service easily accessible to several categories of users. It strongly focuses on the user experience to make sure the needs of the targeted categories are met and consequently acknowledges the diversity of the population. Meaning that for different groups of users, inclusive design explores different solutions. It also takes into account different cultures so that solutions can also apply to foreign tourists who don’t speak the language of the country they’re visiting. 

⊗ Universal design or Design for all: it consists in providing one solution to tailor the needs of everybody. Universal design thus focuses on the entire population rather than just a few groups of people to make accessible products. But usually, universal design only accomplishes to meet the needs of the majority so there are still a few people whose needs aren’t answered. 

⊗ Accessibility: removing obstacles and adapting solutions or equipment so that users with disabilities can have the same experience as any user such as screen readers for people with a visual impairment. Accessibility is all about accommodations. 

As you can see, there are slight differences to know concerning these concepts. However, when dealing with inclusive design, it’s obvious that it has to be linked with accessibility. One goes with the other. After all, they share a common goal even though their methods and solutions differ: enabling people with disabilities to be included in society and to enjoy the same services as anybody. 

Consequently, a simple thing like a wide building entrance constitutes a perfect combination of inclusive design and accessibility! It can prove to be extremely useful for wheelchair users and is the first step to make a place accessible for them. 

This type of equipment can be found in different places such as city halls, universities and colleges or even airports. For shopping malls for example, in addition to a wide entrance with automatic doors, you can find elevators, escalators and ramps so that people with reduced mobility can easily get around and do their shopping. Although elevators may seem to be the obvious choice for easy access for people with reduced mobility, stairs are still relevant since they can help the elderly exercise without them realizing it. Plus people with a visual impairment don’t have to worry about finding the right button on the elevator. They all can simply use accessible stairs equipped with continuous handrails and visual contrasting non-slip stair nosings: an easy equipment to implement!

Inclusive design and accessibility truly are complementary since they serve the same purpose. 

 

Inclusive design with a human-centered approach

People with disabilities are at the heart of inclusive design since it focuses on meeting their needs in the best possible way. Thinking of installing a wide building entrance for wheelchair users is just the beginning for architects and designers. To make a place accessible, it needs to be well thought out with the different profiles in mind. And for that, it means working closely with groups of people with disabilities.

Their participation and involvement is key to make sure architects, city planners, engineers create the perfect environment for their needs. Human-centered design, used in ISO standards, consists at first in researching what the problem is, analyzing the data and then in conceptualizing it in order to implement the appropriate solution. Various stages take place:

⊗ Observing the user groups;

⊗ Analyzing the research;

⊗ Communicating with the user groups on the issue;

⊗ Offering a solution or a prototype;

⊗ Feedback from the groups;

⊗ Fixing the potential problems of the solution raised by the user groups until it’s perfected. Thus, there can be several back-and-forths between the groups and the designers.

Throughout this whole process of analyzing the issue of user groups, empathy remains key. After all, architects, city planners and engineers design for humans. They need to put themselves in the shoes of those who are usually unseen and unheard: people with disabilities. 

The Institute of Human Centered Design (IHCD) in Boston focuses on both inclusive and universal design in order to foster projects that meet the needs of a wide range of people comprising the elderly who may have difficulties to get around or to use their hands due to arthritis, people with learning and attention disabilities, people on the autistic spectrum or any profile of disabilities. Indeed, the IHCD provides their expertise in accessibility from the start of a design project (cities, parks, public transit systems) to ensure all categories of people can have access to a barrier-free society applying a philosophy where people are listened to and valued. People with disabilities as other types of profiles can thus regain some self-esteem. They properly feel they’re part of society. 

Moreover, what’s useful for one group can also be for another one. For example, using simple and clear pictograms to give basic information such as the location of the elevators or the bathroom to people with a cognitive impairment is also efficient for the elderly or children. After all, the goal is to convene universal information through a signage system. 

The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London represents a huge success in terms of inclusive design with a human-centered approach. Created specially for the Olympic and Paralympic Games of 2012, it had the ambition to be home to “the most accessible Games ever” by the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC). It definitely was the case at the time and today it’s still being put to use to welcome the general public. The LLDC issued last year its updated inclusive design standards describing the implementations that took place within the Park, its venues and its surrounding areas. From accessible toilets for wheelchair users to guide paths for the orientation of people with a visual impairment, shared spaces that are easy to navigate and comfort zones for pedestrians but also facilities for assistance dogs, the Park provides a safe and attractive place for a wide range of people of all ages. A sense of community and belonging is thus reinforced. Let’s just hope that the Park inspires others to implement the same inclusive design standards!

On a larger scale, London keeps considering inclusive design as the city is planning to make the Square Mile, the financial district, an accessible environment for its citizens with disabilities and its elderly. London is set on removing all the barriers to create an inclusive society! As we’ve previously explained in our article Disability as an Innovation Driver for the Smart City, accessibility and inclusion represent a challenge to face for all cities that want to be able to claim they’re Smart Cities.  

Innovating while focusing on a human-centered approach can result in surprising creations. The whole world has had to adapt to the ongoing pandemic and wearing masks happens to be essential for all of us to protect ourselves and others. However, this has isolated a lot of people including deaf and hard of hearing people who have been struggling to communicate with others. Seeing that their conversation partner has to wear a mask to cover their face, deaf or hard of hearing people can’t read on their lips anymore or see their facial expressions to help them understand them and the situation. Thankfully, companies or just regular citizens stood up to make transparent masks. A simple inclusive solution that enables deaf people to lip-read and communicate!

Another example of innovation that meets the needs of groups of people is the creation of sensory rooms: a dedicated space for people with cognitive disabilities, autism or even dementia. They can find there a quiet and safe environment away from any potential stressful situations. Once again, the city of London is a fine example of inclusion with the sensory room at the Heathrow airport. Researchers established a guideline showing the therapeutic benefits of a sensory room on patients with dementia with the use of gentle stimulation through senses. Sensory rooms can also provide a sound-protected environment for people on the autistic spectrum who can be sensitive to noise and need a calm place to relax. This happens to be the case at the one in the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis as previously seen in our article The Guidelines for Stadium Accessibility: Offering People with Disabilities a Good Experience. Designing a room with low lighting, different types of spaces to provide calm for people or even fun with the use of soft toys demands a perfect analysis of the categories of people that are to be welcomed there. 

Focusing on the needs of several groups of people is a huge part of inclusive design. It helps improve solutions to create a barrier-free environment for all whatever this environment may be, that’s the beauty of inclusive design!

 

Resolving the challenge of mobility: an inclusive society one foot at a time 

Mobility represents an important challenge to face for people with disabilities in their everyday lives. In our article How Do the Blind Safely Cross the Road?, we had already focused on the importance of the mobility of people with a visual impairment. 

Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) remain the best solution for them to safely cross the road. However, COVID-19 has highlighted their limitations: the use of the pushbutton in the United States and in other countries can endanger the lives of its blind citizens. Indeed, they need to touch the pushbutton to activate the APS and then cross the street but unfortunately it has been proven that the virus could also be found on surfaces making it difficult and unsafe for blind or visually impaired people to easily get around. Our article How Can Accessible Pedestrian Signals Become COVID-19 Responsive? had greatly focused on this issue and had introduced the connected device aBeacon as an adequate solution.  

This innovative APS can be activated on demand with a remote control or with a smartphone which means that the user doesn’t have to touch the pole. The device aBeacon, designed by Okeenea, can easily be installed on traffic lights to provide audible information creating a sound corridor to guide the user. A perfect example of inclusive design at the service of  groups of people! An inclusive society leaves no one behind! 

And French company Okeenea keeps innovating to make sure people with a visual impairment can locate a building or a subway entrance thanks to its audio beacons NAVIGUEO+ HIFI. When activated, their message enables people to find their way to the exact location of the point of interest. Same as aBeacon, these audio beacons also are on demand activated with a remote control or a smartphone so that the users have the same devices for two different solutions. Two well thought solutions focusing on the needs of their users to make their lives easier!

Of course, finding a building entrance is the first step but accessibility within is also important. We’ve seen earlier that buildings like shopping malls can have different types of equipment but usually, people with disabilities need to apprehend their trips beforehand and prepare them as best as they can so that to avoid any possible difficulties. What can be done to enable them to get around spontaneously and explore a new venue? There’s a simple yet original solution with Evelity: an indoor wayfinding app specifically designed for people with disabilities. More and more apps are created for people with physical disabilities, blind or visually impaired people or deaf or hard of hearing people…, to help them in their everyday lives. 

Evelity truly is an ingenious app that can help people with a visual impairment to find their bearings thanks to audio instructions with VoiceOver or TalkBack or people with a physical impairment with optimized routes. It’s up to the user to set up the app according to their profile. Evelity can guide users at any sorts of locations: shopping malls, universities and colleges, hospitals, transport networks such as subways and train stations, offices, museums and much more. 

In order to have a solution that was perfectly tailored to the needs of its different users, Evelity’s design team worked closely with test groups since its beginning according to the stages previously explained. It has always been one of the major principles of the team as service designer Marie-Charlotte Moret explained in her interview: Adopting a Design Approach to Put People at the Heart of New Mobility Services. Then empathy represents an important value when it comes to designing a solution for the mobility of people with disabilities. 

 

The undeniable commitment of the cultural world for the development of inclusive design

If there’s one field that has always questioned the issue of accessibility and the comfort of its visitors it’s the cultural world. How can blind or visually impaired visitors apprehend the paintings in a museum? Can visitors with wheelchairs have easy access to the galleries?

Tactile Studio, an agency specializing in inclusive design for the promotion of the arts to everyone, creates adapted and innovative solutions that both serve the aesthetics of the place and the needs of its visitors. World famous cultural institutions employ this agency to ensure all types of visitors can enjoy culture and arts such as the Orsay Museum in Paris that set up a tactile and multi-sensory exploration of L’Atelier du peintre, a painting by Gustave Courbet. Tactile Studio created a special design of the painting so that visitors with a visual impairment could touch the highlighted layers of the painting. They also had an audio description of the painting so that emotions could be convened through different canals and senses. A complete immersion to easily understand and appreciate an artwork!

Relief and tactile experience are not the only solutions put in place by the design agency. Indeed, technology can be used to help visitors exploit paintings or photographs. The Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum opted for a digital solution for its “Photographs: An Early Album Of The World 1842-1896” exhibition to explain the relevance of these photographs on both technical and cultural aspects. Tactile Studio created interactive animations, graphical interfaces and a narration for digital non-tactile supports. A fun way to approach art!

The Guggenheim in New York represents a very good example of accessibility through inclusive design since it addresses different profiles thanks to adapted solutions. Even its cylindrical building proves to be easily accessible: visitors start their trip at the top and gradually go down with its slightly tilted rotunda ramp to access the exhibitions. A simple way for visitors with wheelchairs to get around in the museum if they don’t want to use the elevators. 

However, the Guggenheim and its rotunda provide more solutions that meet the needs of different profiles:

 

Wheelchair visitorsComplimentary standard wheelchairs
Accessible seating places
Visitors with a visual impairmentVerbal descriptions by professionals 
Visitors with a hearing impairmentAmerican Sign Language (ASL) interpretation
Assistive-listening devices
Visitors with sensory processing disordersA social narrative guide to know what to expect during the visit
Quiet places

Thanks to inclusive design, access to culture is indeed possible and can take many forms. Visitors with disabilities benefit from endless innovations to share the same experience as any visitor. Therefore, a constant renewal is necessary to ensure everybody can enjoy culture. Research proves to be an essential part of inclusive design which is why Access Smithsonian, the Institute for Human Centered Design and MuseWeb collaborated to establish a guide on Inclusive Digital Interactives: Best Practices + Research

This guide is a must-read for anyone involved in inclusive design and its implementation in the cultural world. It provides detailed examples of case studies with a goal to constantly rethink and reconsider what is done at the present moment to foster innovation. 

As we can see, creating an accessible and barrier-free society through inclusive design can happen for many different fields. The challenges to raise only but increase the necessary constant renewal to think and rethink the solutions. Accessibility can be achieved thanks to innovative solutions! Together, let’s build an inclusive world! 

 

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Inclusive design and accessibility both share a common goal even though their methods and solutions differ: enabling people with disabilities to be included in society and to enjoy the same services as anybody.

writer

Carole Martinez

Content Manager junior

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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.

13 Must-Have Apps for Blind or Visually Impaired People in 2020

13 Must-Have Apps for Blind or Visually Impaired People in 2020

13 Must-Have Apps for Blind or Visually Impaired People in 2020

 

For blind or visually impaired people, accessing simple information can sometimes be difficult. How can a nonsighted person get their bearings and choose the best route to get to their destination? Or read a document that’s not available in braille? Answer an email from a co-worker? Fortunately, technology keeps innovating and permits to assist people with a visual impairment in their everyday lives.

Indeed, 89% of them have a smartphone, a tool that truly revolutionizes their lives! If they can gain more autonomy today it’s thanks to features that are more advanced and accessible to the general public or thanks to apps that are specially designed for them. Blind or visually impaired people who find it restrictive and stressing to get around can now be more serene!

Let’s explore these apps together!

VoiceOver

VoiceOver is a screen reader that’s integrated into iPhones that, as its name indicates, enunciates emails or other textual messages aloud. It’s up to the user to choose the speaking rate and the volume.

Not to forget that braille also remains an option for those who have a braille keyboard to connect to the smartphone or who just want to write in braille directly on the screen of their iPhone.

VoiceOver also describes all the elements on the screen such as apps icons, the battery level and even in part images thanks to artificial intelligence. All the information is thus accessible!

TalkBack

Android smartphones also have a similar screen reader with TalkBack. It follows the same guideline as for iPhones: reading textual elements aloud, exploring the screen, using braille with BrailleBack… Everything is set for an optimal and smooth navigation!

Siri

Directly integrated into iPhones, Siri is an easy-to-use vocal assistant. For blind or visually impaired people, for whom finding and clicking on the right button can be difficult, using a voice control enables them to save time!

They just need to ask Siri to call a contact, to send a dictated text message and everything is therefore easier!

Google Assistant

Also activated by voice control, Google Assistant has the same functionality as Siri. The user totally controls their smartphone according to their needs: sending an email, setting up an alarm, managing their schedule…

Available on both Android and iOS

Google Maps

It’s one of the most popular GPS navigation apps. Being able to anticipate their route is essential for blind and visually impaired people. And this also applies for other types of profiles in general since people with disabilities use 30% more the GPS on their smartphone than the rest of the population. (Find out all the facts and figures concerning their use of smartphones in our infographic.)

Google Maps enables users to have access to all the real-time traffic information which is ideal when choosing the right means of public transportation!

The app even provides a new feature called “Accessible Places” that enables users to even more apprehend their environment thanks to information concerning the seating plan of a restaurant, the exact location of a building entrance…

A precious help to serenely get around!

Available on both Android and iOS

Moovit

For those who are used to taking public transportation, this app lists all the possible means of transportation, their itineraries, their timetables and other information on real-time traffic.

The app even indicates the users the names of stops while on the bus, the tram or the subway. This proves to be essential for blind or visually impaired people when voice announcements aren’t activated.

Available on both Android and iOS

Microsoft Soundscape

Developed by Microsoft, this app is particularly innovative since it uses audio 3D technology to describe blind or visually impaired people their environment. 

Soundscape enables them to better apprehend their surroundings, to call out intersections and to find their bearings in the city with great facility. And all of that by having their smartphone in their pocket: their hands remain free for their white cane or their guide dog!

Available on iOS

Evelity

Developed by Okeenea Digital, this app is the first indoor wayfinding solution for people with a visual impairment to navigate in complex venues such as museums or universities! It works like a GPS.

Compatible with VoiceOver and TalkBack, Evelity provides audio instructions to users to guide them step by step. People with disabilities can easily find the reception desk or the classroom without needing to know the premises in advance.

Available on both Android and iOS

MyMoveo

We’re once again on the theme of mobility with MyMoveo developed by Okeenea Tech. This app enables blind or visually impaired users to activate connected Accessible Pedestrian Signals aBeacon to know when the pedestrian signal is green and thus safely cross the street.

Users can even use the app to activate the audio beacons NAVIGUEO+ HIFI which can locate points of interest such as the entrances of a public building or a subway station.

Available on both Android and iOS, an update is coming! 

Be My Eyes

An app with which users can ask the help of sighted users in order to match their clothes or to know the expiry date of a product. Thanks to an audio-video connexion, users can easily get in touch. 

Available on both Android and iOS

Aira

Aira works in the same way as Be My Eyes since it connects nonsighted people with sighted ones to help them in various tasks such as finding the gate of an airport.

What sets this app apart is that the sighted users, called agents, are specifically trained to assist blind or visually impaired users referred to as Explorers. 

Although the app can be downloaded for free, users are charged according to the different plans and services Aira provides. Depending on the formula they choose and their needs, the cost can thus be high.

Available on both Android and iOS

Seeing AI

A multipurpose app that permits to read and describe all types of documents placed under the smartphone camera such as banknotes or product barcodes.

Seeing AI even recognizes images, colors and faces and thus gives details on people’s emotions. 

Available on iOS

Lookout

Lookout is the equivalent app of Seeing AI on Android. The user just has to activate their smartphone camera so that Lookout can identify banknotes, objects… Thanks to its Quick Read Mode, the app skims through a text which is ideal when sorting the mail for example.

An app that simplifies the everyday tasks and saves time to its users!

Available on Android

 

We can see that blind or visually impaired people have within their reach numerous apps that improve their autonomy especially concerning their mobility.

If you want to know more about other profiles of people with disabilities and the apps they use in their everyday lives, you can read our articles:

9 Must-Have Apps for People with Physical Disabilities in 2020 

5 Must-Have Apps for Deaf or Hard of Hearing People in 2020

 

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The app Evelity is the first indoor wayfinding solution for people with a visual impairment to navigate in complex venues such as museums or universities! It works like a GPS.

writer

Carole Martinez

Content Manager junior

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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.

The Trailblazers of College Accessibility in the United States

The Trailblazers of College Accessibility in the United States

The Trailblazers of College Accessibility in the United States

 

The academic year has started! It’s time for students to go back to college and to fully build their own future! But some, like students with disabilities, can face obstacles during their studies. College accessibility is key to make sure these students can succeed, whether they have a visual or a hearing impairment or motor difficulties.

Around 20% of students with disabilities attend college in the United States. A percentage that keeps increasing every year due to the fact that colleges and universities put up more and more measures to make their premises and their curriculums accessible to all. They thus attract more and more students with disabilities who wish to have access to a higher education.

What do American colleges need to do to be accessible? How can they promote the inclusion of students with disabilities? Get ready to take some notes, we’re going to dissect everything! Retakes aren’t admissible!

Measures promoting college accessibility

Thanks to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 (IDEA), students with disabilities between the ages of 3 and 21 receive a public education that’s tailored to their profile. One of its most important goals is to help students have access to a higher education establishing transition services. These services work closely with students to guide them by helping them to find the right college and preparing them for their life on campus.

The same year the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed. It aims at protecting people with disabilities from any type of discrimination by implementing accessibility measures in public accommodations. Giving people with disabilities the same services and opportunities as any other citizens represents the true meaning of accessibility. Thus public academic institutions need to abide by it. 

Both acts demonstrate that it’s up to schools and colleges to adapt to the students’ different profiles in order to facilitate their inclusion and their success by first turning their premises accessible. For colleges, it concerns the whole campus: administrative services, lecture halls, cafeterias, libraries… A lot of measures that answer the needs of students with disabilities, regardless of their profile, are easy to implement:

⊗ Automatic doors;

⊗ Guide paths for orientation; 

⊗ Elevators and access ramps;

⊗ Visual contrasting non-slip stair nosings;

⊗ Audio beacons located at strategic points of interest (entrances, reception desk, assemble rooms…);

⊗ Universal pictograms; 

⊗ Braille signs;

⊗ Audio induction loops;

⊗ Accessible restrooms.

We thus have simple yet very efficient systems that enable students but also faculty members with disabilities to get their bearings in a huge and crowded place without needing to be accompanied by someone. Even technology can be useful like Evelity, an indoor wayfinding app specially designed to guide people with disabilities step by step. To use this innovative technology, users just need a smartphone, an essential tool that favors the autonomy of people with disabilities in their everyday lives.

To make sure students with disabilities have equal access to programs, activities and courses but also accessible accommodations on campus, colleges all have disability services at their disposal. However, colleges don’t provide the same disability resources to their students. It’s up to them to carefully choose a college that perfectly answers their needs. They can research anything they need to know on disability and higher education on the National Center for College Students with Disabilities (NCCSD) website. Most services constitute in:

⊗ Note takers;

⊗ American sign language interpreters;

⊗ Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs);

⊗ Assistive technology (screen readers, alternate format materials, video magnifiers…); 

⊗ Exam adjustments;

⊗ Housing accomodations (wheelchair accessible for example).

Some institutions can afford to go further like world-class private university Harvard. Indeed, Harvard pays attention to ergonomics for its students as well as its faculty members with disabilities by providing furniture and office equipment that’s adapted to their type of disability. The university also puts at their disposal accessible shuttles and vans to facilitate their getting around. Everything is thought to make their lives on campus agreable!

Another good example is Berkeley that provides all the necessary services listed above but also takes into consideration the needs of students on the autism spectrum. Different academic supports like executive function skills building and an emphasis on social engagement with a weekly discussion group enable students on the autism spectrum to succeed in their studies and to have a rich campus life. 

Easily accessible campuses  

Thanks to their accessibility, colleges and universities can bank on their attractivity to enroll new students. It’s a place where students spend several years learning, shaping their personalities and creating links with others. Consequently, for those who don’t already have an accommodation on the premises being able to easily go there is key to guarantee they have a good college experience.  

For students with reduced mobility, going to college by car can easily turn into a conundrum when it comes to finding a PRM parking space on campus. A college with accessible parking spaces strengthens even more their autonomy to get around. 

Using public transportation to go to college can also facilitate the lives of students as long as it’s accessible. Subway stations for instance need to be equipped with elevators and escalators. Students with disabilities living in Boston are lucky to use the MBTA since it has strongly improved its accessibility over the years. All buses have a retractable access ramp and dedicated spaces for people using wheelchairs, they remain a good means of transport for people with reduced mobility.

For places as huge as campuses, making accessible every possible route between all the different buildings: from the student center to the lecture halls, from the lecture halls to the library or from the library to the cafeteria… There are a lot of possible combinations that students do to successfully complete their studies and their lives on campus. As we previously saw, a simple and clear signage system enables all students to easily get their bearings in an autonomous way. Tactile guiding paths are the easiest way for visually impaired students to find their way to their chosen destination. They simply have to follow them. 

A lot of colleges and universities put an online map of their campus so that students can easily comprehend the premises. In addition to all the necessary information on the location of the buildings, the map of the University of Michigan also indicates where the accessible entrances are.

Understanding the issues of students with disabilities

Although a lot of apps exist to facilitate the communication of hearing impaired students with others, it’s always better when they face empathic people. Whether they are faculty members of fellow students, it’s important they put themselves in their position by following several tips to make them feel welcome. Being sensitive to the needs of students with disabilities favors their inclusion and offers them a comfortable environment for their studies. A well trained staff and faculty plays a major role in the success of these students. Colleges and universities that focus on disability awareness will attract more students with disabilities.

Seeing that the number of students with disabilities who decide to go to college keeps increasing, colleges and universities need to be able to answer their needs for a perfect inclusion and success. Setting up accessibility measures enables colleges to strengthen their positive image and reputation.

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To make sure students with disabilities have equal access to programs, activities and courses, colleges all have disability services at their disposal.

writer

Carole Martinez

Content Manager junior

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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.