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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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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