How do you prepare for a big convention or event? Typically you would take a look at a map and figure out how to get to all the things you want as quickly as possible. Once at the event, you would rely on your memory, map, and posted signage to direct you. In the event you got lost, you would look for an employee wearing an identifying shirt or badge to assist you. For someone who is visually impaired, relying on visual cues such as these is not an option and while some signage may also contain braille, available does not always equal accessible.
Navigation proves to be difficult in a temporary conference setting that does not allow for prior practice or instruction for the visually impaired. Printed materials or online information is not always completely accessible or easily located making finding a map or directions exceptionally hard. During the event, many presentations or social activities are not visually impaired friendly as they tend to use visual presentations, speaker animation, or interactive exercises that would require reading body language or maneuvering around a crowded room in a short period of time. Along with traversing the conference floor, there is also locating exhibits and other features such as food and refreshments – which can be obstacles themselves as they are often not labeled and if they are, are done so on cards.
For organizations attempting to find a solution to this issue and create a more accessible environment, they find that doing so requires ample additional funding. Having someone to translate for foreign speakers, sign for the hearing impaired, and escort those who need assistance or are visually impaired are additional expenses that could cost thousands more daily. In an effort to find more efficient solutions, groups and organizations are shifting their gaze to technology.
Already utilized during the 2016 National ADA Symposium and M-Enabling Summit and selected for the 2017 National ADA Symposium, Sensible Innovations has brought their Aware application and iBeacons to conferences as an audio guide. Aware is accessible to the deaf as well as the blind through refreshable braille devices. Where printed maps, braille, and volunteer escorts may not be available, or in short supply, the Aware app provides audio navigation to attendees and offers them live turn-by-turn direction to everything they may need or want to find. This use of technology allows those with visual impairments the freedom to access the world around them in an independent fashion and assists in creating a world without limitations.