Disability Innovations – iBeacons help blind people conquer the Tube

Disability Innovations is a blog series that gathers some of the most interesting new products and services that aim to make disabled people’s lives easier. We hope it will inspire more innovation in the disability field.

What is it?

We all love to talk about how stressful travel in London is – particularity on the underground. Our usual complaints (the sights, the smells, the tourists standing on the left) pale into insignificance when compared with the challenge of navigating the system with a visual impairment.

Wayfindr is an app that aims to help blind and visually impaired people to use the London Underground (LU) more easily and independently, by giving the user accurate audible directions as they make their way through the station. A trial has just been undertaken at Pimlico station, and the hope is that if successful it will be rolled out across the LU and other transport networks.

“When I tested the app at Pimlico last week for the first time it was awesome, it made me feel free.” Courtney, Royal London Society for Blind People (RLSB) Youth Forum member.

Who did it?

The project was born out of the Royal London Society for Blind People (RLSB) Youth Forum, which in March 2014 highlighted travel as a key issue. They collaborated with ustwo (a studio which builds digital products and services) to develop the Wayfindr app. After an initial trial RLSB and ustwo approached LU to see how they could use this technology.

How does it work?

Bluetooth ‘iBeacons’ transmit signals that are picked up by the Wayfindr app, which uses them combined with ustwo’s positioning technology to work out where the user is. From this information the user is given audible directions which guide them around the ticket hall, down stairs and escalators, and onto the platform.  Directions are received though bone-conduction headphones, which are unique as they allow users to continue to hear what’s going on around them.

Young visually impaired Londoners involved with the charity were involved in testing the Wayfindr app. Feedback was positive, with those who were initially insecure reporting feeling more confident at the end of the trial sessions. There were some constructive points that will be addressed in future trials, and more iBeacons would need to be put in place before it can be used more widely.

Check out RSLBs Wayfindr page and video for more information about the trial and how the technology works.

What’s the dream?

The results of the trial will inform how this technology could work on the underground, to help fulfil the ambition of standardising all this technology and make it seamless across the transport network. Ustwo are also aiming to try out Wayfindr with multiple modes of transport, using various technologies to complement beacons for more accurate navigation.

If it is rolled out, it would offer a simple way for thousands of people to navigate public transport, making a dramatic difference to visually impaired people’s lives.

Why we like it

This ground breaking trial has been driven directly by a group of young people and the real issues they face, and has been achieved through close collaboration between charity and private company. We love how this technology is being developed on an open basis, to allow other developers to take the technology forward and build apps that work with the beacons. We hope the results of the trial mean that this is adopted across the London Underground and that other transport providers are encouraged to invest in this area.

This blog is for information only. Scope does not endorse this product or service. We try to make sure our information is up to date and accurate at the time of publishing.

To tell us about a Disability Innovation, please email innovation@scope.org.uk.

I’ve been tipped out of my chair and punched in the face – #100days100stories

Guest post from Simon Green, as part of our 100 days, 100 stories campaign

My name is Simon Green, I live in Bridgend, South Wales. I have a condition called Neurofibromatosis, which along with a freak accident has resulted in me having to use a wheelchair for the past 12 years.

I am Chair of Bridgend Coalition of Disabled People, a Trustee with Disability Wales and Coordinator with the Disability Hate Crime Network.

My life changed straight away, I expected it to, but I did not expect that having to use a wheelchair would result in hostility, but sadly it did. I was verbally abused, called derogatory names and deliberately tipped out my chair, and on one occasion punched in the face. The guy who hit me used the excuse that “he didn’t think it was right for a f***ing spaz to be out with a pretty girl”.

Campaigning for changeMan in wheelchair smiling

I have spent the past few years campaigning for more awareness in relation to disability related harassment and have heard some horrific stories of both verbal and physical abuse against disabled people.

But over the last three or four years I’ve been hearing more and more about a very different type of abuse, and that’s language like ‘scrounger’ and ‘benefit cheat’, especially against people with more hidden disabilities.

And this is where I come on to politics! Now I would not for a second directly blame any politician or journalist for someone attacking a disabled person but I believe politicians and journalists need to be careful with the language they use.

The power of words

Man in wheelchair at a rally
Campaigning for change: Simon Green

The constant talk of cutting welfare, suggestions that the state of the economy is down to the number of people claiming benefits and phrases such as “Strivers verses Skivers” do not help – and can increase hostility towards the disabled community.

I get extremely angry when such comments are made as they do a huge amount of harm.

Disabled people have votes, and if party leaders want these votes they need to cut down on the inappropriate and demonising comments.

Find out more about the Disability Hate Crime Network.

For advice and support call the Scope helpline on 0808 800 3333.

Find out more about our 100 days, 100 stories campaign and read the rest of our stories so far