Navigation App Breaks Down Barriers for the Visually Impaired

The AccessiBuild indoor navigation system will be launched in January 2020 By: Colleen Romaniuk
Jan. 7, 2019

Jeff Godfrey is doing his best to ensure a barrier-free Canada.

The general manager of Y4U Technologies in North Bay has created a platform to solve the issue of building accessibility for those who are blind or partially sighted.

He discovered that high unemployment rates and low incomes are persistent problems among this demographic. One of the reasons for this is inaccessible workplaces.

After Bill C-81 was passed in June 2018, Godfrey took a closer look at the accessible building models currently available to the public. He realized that he had the chance to create something, using a sustainable development model, that would address the problem that exists with building navigation.

‘I saw an opportunity to innovate on the existing information and technology that we had to have a positive social impact,’ said Godfrey.

Working with his employer, SRP Building Products, Godfrey and his business partner, Marc Rayner, started to develop AccessiBuild, an indoor navigation system geared towards the visually impaired, in 2019.

The team uses architectural software to create detailed digital maps of physical spaces. The maps are then uploaded onto the platform and made available for download.

Anyone who downloads the mobile app on their phone can access the blueprints.

Although the creators are targeting those with visual impairments right now, anyone can use it.

They hope to continue to adapt the software in the future for other demographics, including people who use wheelchairs or speak other languages.

Distance and bearings measurements can be customized to suit the user’s needs.

For example, the app can tell the user how many steps to take to the next door, and whether they should orient themselves left or right.

Using SRP’s LiDAR technology, which uses light detection and ranging, the company builds 3D models of spaces that are accurate up to three millimetres.

The end product is a streamlined app that makes navigating indoor spaces much easier.

The company’s goal is to practice sustainable development. In other words, they want to create technology that will have a positive impact on the world socially, economically, and environmentally.

AccessiBuild is meant to be less cumbersome and expensive than existing technologies on the market.

3D models of physical spaces produce huge data sets which need to be converted and compressed to be useful to someone without access to architectural software.

Godfrey and Rayner have sought to simplify the process.

AccessiBuild is free to use, which is important for those without much disposable income. Buildings will pay an initial fee to have their layouts mapped.

The company has been working with various organizations and local users to test the platform.

Brian Bibeault, committee chair of the Municipal Accessibility Advisory Committee in North Bay, has been acting as the company’s main tester, providing valuable feedback and guidance throughout the development process. CNIB Sudbury’s program lead for accessible technology, Victoria Francis, has also been on board.

Godfrey has built nothing into the software that they haven’t approved first.

‘I can’t imagine the difficulties that they have as a sighted person,’ said Godfrey. ‘We’ve had to make adjustments, but the feedback has been very positive and encouraging.’

The company has also opened up testing to tech trainers in the Canadian Council of the Blind.

The software will be launched on Jan. 10, 2020 at 176 Lakeshore, Co-Working Offices, which also happens to be the first AccessiBuild-enabled building on the platform.

The commercial space is ‘very inclusive and community-oriented, so Godfrey figured it was a great place to develop this kind of software.

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TransLink has Approved $7 Million in Funding to Upgrade the Transit System for the Visually Impaired.

The transit agency calls the program “industry-leading,” and says it will significantly improve the transit experience for blind and partially-sighted passengers.

Tactile and braille signage will be added to an estimated 8,500 bus stops in the system starting in 2020, while tactile walking surface indicators will be installed at stations and bus exchanges.

TransLink says the braille signage will include the five-digit bus stop ID number, the words The words “STOP” or “BAY #” to identify the bus stop, route numbers and the customer service telephone number.

The agency says it is also working on developing a wayfinding technology pilot that would work with visually impaired passengers’ tablets or smartphones.

TransLink says it has been doing testing on accessible bus stops since 2012, when it piloted the braille and tactile walking surface indicators at the Joyce-Collingwood bus exchange.

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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.

[email protected]

On Twitter: @alexrawnsle

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Blind Juror in Toronto Impaired Driving Case Was Almost Rejected

Disability advocates seek removal of courtroom barriers
Betsy Powell Toronto Star
Dec. 29, 2018

A recent criminal trial at Toronto’s downtown Superior Court featured what may be a first in Ontario: a blind juror.

The fact that is, if not a first, an extremely rare occurrence in Ontario underscores that much more needs to be done to remove the barriers to equal treatment in the criminal justice system, disability advocates say.

“Certainly this applies to ensuring adequate representation of persons with disabilities on juries,” says Luke Reid, a lawyer with ARCH Disability Law Centre in Toronto.

The Criminal Code allows people with vision or hearing disabilities to serve on juries. However, an accused may challenge a juror’s service and the Juries Act deems jurors ineligible if they have “a physical or mental disability that would seriously impair his or her ability to discharge the duties of a juror.”

“However, human rights law would demand that this (or any) requirement not be interpreted in an overbroad way and that persons with disabilities have the right to the necessary accommodations,” Reid wrote in email.

Juror 29743 almost didn’t get picked. While there are likely numerous reasons preventing people with impaired vision from sitting on juries, there is still a “very active debate” around the ability of a “trier of fact” to see a witness’s demeanour in order to assess credibility, Reid noted in an email.

“I think courts tend to err on the side of caution where the right of an accused to a fair trial is potentially at issue.”

This fall, a day before jury selection in an impaired driving causing death trial, prosecutor Marnie Goldenberg told the judge she and defence lawyer Carolyn Kerr had some concerns about a prospective juror, who had shown up at the courthouse with a service dog. Goldenberg told the judge numerous photos would be introduced during the two-week trial.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Rob Goldstein told the lawyers while it was entirely appropriate to raise the issue, he didn’t intend to treat Juror 29743 any differently than other jurors.

“I think it’s something we canvass and we treat her the way we treat any other juror who has a health issue,” Goldstein said. The next day, after Juror 29743 entered the courtroom with her service dog, the judge asked her how she would “deal” with all the photos in the case.

“It would be through description … I cannot see them,” the woman, who works in human resources, told Goldstein.

“OK, all right, so if they are described – you can absorb what’s in them?” the judge asked. She said yes.

The jury selection process continued in the normal course with two already selected jurors, designated as “triers,” deciding whether or not she was an acceptable pick.

Juror 29743 said she had not heard about the case involving a man charged with impaired driving causing death on April 23, 2016, near Jane St. and Humberview Blvd. She also indicated she could consider the evidence without prejudice or bias after being told the accused was a visible minority and Muslim. Nevertheless, the triers immediately rejected her.

Goldstein, however, wasn’t satisfied. He told the triers he was going to reread their instructions and asked them to consult each other again. The test to decide is if a juror would approach jury duty with an open mind and decide the case based solely on the evidence and his legal instructions, the judge told them.

This time, the triers found Juror 29743 acceptable while counsel on both sides said they were “content” with the choice. After a few days of deliberations, the jury returned to court with a guilty verdict. The Star’s attempts to speak to Juror 29743 were unsuccessful.

Lawyer David Lepofsky, a retired Crown attorney who is blind and was not involved in the case, said having a blind juror not only makes the legal system more representative of society, it makes lawyers more effective.

There’s a lot of stuff that goes on in a courtroom that is visual and needs to be explained for the transcript, or audio recording, so having a blind juror will help ensure that happens, “so you get a better record, and it’s better for everybody,” Lepofsky said.

But there are some exceptions where a visually impaired juror might have to be excluded, he added. If, for example, the guilt or innocence of an accused is entirely based on whether a jury believes an accused looks like an assailant captured in a surveillance video.

Lepofsky, now a visiting professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall law school, said traditionally, appeal courts said trial judges were in a superior position to assess the credibility of witnesses, because they, unlike appeal judges, can access demeanour.

That view has evolved, and now appeal courts are increasingly warning “it’s wrong to over emphasize visual demeanour when assessing credibility.” He uses himself as an example to explain how everyone has different ways of doing that.

“Sighted people use eyes. I listen to a voice … and the whole idea of a jury is it’s a bunch of different people … pooling their different ways of assessing credibility and then voting as a group. Well, who’s to say visual is the only way to do it,” he said.

“Those of us who experience the world non visually, have our own experience too.”

While jurors don’t have to be statistically representative of society, there is an expectation that they bring to the courtroom their own life experience, “drawn from different parts of the community, and they pool to form a collective assessment, a very difficult assessment, who to believe about what happened.”

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Accommodating Workers who are Blind or Visually Impaired

The Employment Standard under the AODA requires employers to accommodate workers with disabilities.  This article will specifically look at accommodating workers who are blind or visually impaired and outline the kinds of accommodations workers might need. Individual workers will know which accommodations will be most helpful for them.

Accommodating Workers who are Blind or Visually Impaired

Moving Safely Around the Workplace

Workers will often have training to navigate their surroundings safely, called orientation and mobility (O and M) training. Some workers may need to memorize routes from one important workplace location to another, such as:

  • From the front door to their work stations
  • Between their work stations, washrooms, and break rooms

Some workers might invite an O and M specialist to show them around, while others may request that a colleague does so. Once workers have memorized these routes, they will walk around the workplace without help.

White Canes, Guide Dogs, and Sighted Guide

Workers may use white canes to find out about their surroundings and to locate or avoid obstacles like furniture and stairs. Colleagues should not touch a white cane without its owner’s permission.

Workers may also use guide dogs. Owners receive training to work with their dogs, which must learn to follow their owners’ directions about where to go, look out for obstacles, and behave appropriately in public places  where non-service-dogs are not allowed to go. Colleagues should never touch a worker’s guide dog without its owner’s permission.

In addition, workers may sometimes ask colleagues to act as sighted guides: individuals use a technique in which they grasp the guide’s arm near the elbow to feel and follow where the guide is going. Whether colleagues use sighted guide or provide verbal directions, they can be most helpful by:

  • Saying “left” and “right” rather than “over here”
  • Audibly tapping the object or region that the worker is trying to find
  • Describing important elements of their surroundings

Recognizing Colleagues

Many blind and visually impaired people learn to recognize others by their voices. Colleagues should identify themselves by name whenever they start a conversation with their new coworker until that person tells them not to do so. They should also alert the worker if they are leaving the room.

Accessing Written Information

Workers will access written information in different ways. Workers who have enough vision to read print may read in a large font or use technology that magnifies the text on a page or computer screen. People who do not read print often read Braille. They may use computer Braille displays which present text on a screen in Braille, or programs called screen readers which vocalize text-based information. Funding for these assistive devices in the workplace is available through provincial or federal government programs.

Workers using this technology will be able to read textual information they receive in files, emails and many websites. Employers can make other information accessible by giving workers advance copies of any information not available online, so that they can convert it into an accessible format. For example, an employer might:

  • Send a worker the electronic version of a print handout
  • Photo-copy a handout in a font size the worker can read
  • Give the worker a hard copy early so the worker can use their own software to make an accessible version

Individual workers will explain which of these options will be most useful for them. They will also say how far in advance information should be provided.

If a large portion of a blind or visually impaired worker’s prospective job would involve reading handwriting, especially in a team environment, the employer should consider arranging job responsibilities so that the worker only needs to use digital information. In this way, the worker is accommodated while doing the same amount of work as colleagues.


Although workers who are blind or visually impaired perform some job tasks differently than sighted workers, they are equally productive. By accommodating workers who are blind or visually impaired, employers will have access to a pool of independent, competent, conscientious, and creative workers.

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