CNIB Installs Visual Aid Tech in Toronto to Improve Accessibility

Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, but that often isn’t the case for people with disabilities. The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) is looking to change that.

In an effort to create Toronto’s most accessible neighbourhood, the CNIB has begun installing beacons in businesses around the Yonge Street and St. Clair Avenue area in an effort to improve access for those who are blind or visually impaired. This campaign is part of the “ShopTalk: BlindSquare Enabled” program.

The beacons are small battery powered devices that communicate pre-programmed information and details about whatever business they are installed inside to users via the specially designed BlindSquare iPhone app. The information is shared to users via audio and may include shop or restaurant layout, menus, what’s available to purchase and more.

“Technology can be so helpful in people’s lives, regardless of their level of sight,” says Angela Bonfanti, CNIB Ontario GTA executive director. “We’re leveling the playing field for people with sight loss so that they can access the same goods and services as everyone else both confidently and independently.”

Five sets of beacons have been installed already at stores around the neighbourhood including Shoppers Drug Mart, New Balance, Frontier Computing and more. Five more will be installed in coming weeks and the overall goal is to install 200 in total.

The stores that agreed to install the beacons stated that participating in ShopTalk was a no-brainer, as the devices are delivered and installed free of charge by CNIB staff and they allow any kind of patron to confidently navigate the shop’s space.

“People with sight loss are capable of navigating spaces like you and I – just a little differently,” said Bonfanti. “This initiative allows them to live fuller lives and better participate in society.”

Bonfanti expressed goals of having BlindSquare in every public building at one point as well, from governments to museums. The CNIB community hub in Toronto is also BlindSquare enabled, which helps to further the organization’s goal of accessible neighbourhoods everywhere.

ShopTalk is partially funded by a $26,000 grant from the Rick Hansen Foundation Access4All Program.

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