Travelling independently, especially on public transport and through indoor spaces can be a difficult and sometimes impossible experience for vision impaired people. In the UK, nearly half of blind and vision impaired (VI) people would like to leave their homes more and 79% of them face serious challenges using public transport.

Wayfindr, a not for profit partnership between the charity Royal Society for Blind Children (RSBC) and digital product company ustwo, was established in early 2015, with the aim of empowering vision impaired people to travel independently using everyday technology, such as smartphones.

Wayfindr’s approach is to develop and promote a free to use, consensus-based open standard. In the emerging market for indoor navigation, there is a unique opportunity to build in accessibility from the outset. This is possible through the Wayfindr Open Standard for Accessible Audio Wayfinding. Using the standard, software developers and building owners are able to develop and deploy accessible audio navigation systems and mobile applications which can guide vision impaired users through complex areas such as train stations and shopping centres safely and efficiently.

Providing standardised and consistent audio navigation will give vision impaired people the confidence to travel independently as, thanks to the Wayfindr Open Standard, they know what type of navigation information they will receive and when. The Open Standard was approved by the International Telecommunications Union, a branch of the United Nations, in March 2017.

Wayfindr recently received £300,000 from the Big Lottery Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK. The funding will help to further develop the Wayfindr Open Standard by continuing trials in a range of environments (such as transport, shopping centres, and hospitals) across the UK. Our aim is to support the two million people in the UK who are living with sight loss to navigate indoor environments independently.

The funding will also support the development of a software accreditation program, meaning that in the future, venues with accessible audio navigation will be able to certify that their systems comply with the Wayfindr Open Standard.

Furthermore, the funding will aid in the development of an online training course on audio navigation and the Wayfindr Open Standard which will be aimed at accessibility and wayfinding professionals, helping to ensure that as more and more indoor audio navigation systems are deployed around the world, they are made accessible for blind and vision impaired people from the beginning.

With the market for indoor navigation systems set to grow from $4.5 billion this year to $18.5 billion by 2021, indoor navigation is set to become widely available in the near future. Using the Wayfindr Open Standard will make these systems accessible to blind and vision impaired users, helping them to travel spontaneously and independently.

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