Community Access for Visual Impaired Aided by Technology

Jul 19, 2019

NANAIMO Emerging technology for those who are visually-impaired is highlighting how inaccessible Nanaimo can be for many.

Nanaimo resident Jean Menzies, like many others across the world, is turning to technology and the increasing number of apps and services to see and make her way through life.

Though the free app Be My Eyes and the paid subscription service Aira help Menzies find what shes looking for in the store or get around town, she said theyd solutions to a much larger accessibility problem in Nanaimo.

The lack of tactile warning strips at flush curbs, the out-dated audible pedestrian signals, the seeming unwillingness or disinterest of the City to improve accessibility for blind citizen is appalling, Menzies said.

The City says it is working on its accessibility for visual impaired people. Officials tout an on-going program with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) where new audible signals will be added to the Citys infrastructure.

According to City of Nanaimo Manager of Communications Farnaz Farrokhi, inclusivity is a major focus moving forward.

As we undertake new city infrastructure projects, the City is taking the approach to support mobility for all abilities and all ages. For example, one of our destination parks is being replaced this year as well as next year and the focus is for it to be an inclusive playground.

Nanaimo resident Jean Menzies, who has been blind since birth, uses a pair of visual assistance apps to help her navigate

Menzies would like to see some of the cost for services like Aira shared amongst the business community in Nanaimo.

There are opportunities for malls or shopping districts to sponsor these services in their area. They can be a free access zone where any shopper with this service can go in independently, spend their money like any other person without having to require assistance.

Be My Eyes claims over 2.5 million volunteers assisting more than 140,000 blind or low vision individuals. Aira offers its services to a global audience on a paid, monthly-subscription.

The challenge when using these services is the quality of information available.

Its providing whats in the visual surrounding that were missing whether its what spice jar am I holding?, which could be easily answered to any volunteerto a more complicated situation where you might need a professional who is vetted and can respect privacy of sensitive personal information, Menzies said.

On July 16, Toronto Pearson International airport became the first such facility in Canada to offer free access to Aira.

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On Twitter: @alexrawnsle

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