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Beacons aid access to Melbourne's business district for those with low vision

The beacons will send audio messages about potential obstacles and intersections to users’ phones, to help people with low vision or blindness get around the city.

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The beacons are now located along Bourke and Swanston streets in Melbourne
The beacons are now located along Bourke and Swanston streets in Melbourne

The city of Melbourne has installed a series of beacons in its central business district (CBD) to help improve access for people with low vision.

 

The beacons, located along Bourke and Swanston streets, will send audio messages about potential obstacles to users’ phones, to help people with low vision or blindness get around.

 

Public transport

 

Guide Dogs Victoria was commissioned to develop the programme, which uses a phone app to provide information about intersections, construction and public transport.

 

“Accessibility is an important part of everything we do at the city of Melbourne, including helping people find their way around our city,” said councillor Beverley Pinder, chair of the People City portfolio.

 

“Melbourne is growing – and as our city changes it’s vital that we support people living with low vision, blindness or other disabilities to remain confident and independent getting around.”

 

She continued: “We’re embracing new ways of communicating with residents and visitors to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to experience everything our wonderful city has to offer.”

 

The beacons use an existing phone app, BlindSquare, to provide detailed audio messages with information that is not available through other map-based tools like Google Maps. This includes the location of obstacles, such as bollards, as well as information about construction works in the area.

 

“As our city changes it’s vital that we support people living with low vision, blindness or other disabilities to remain confident and independent getting around.”

 

The technology uses GPS and bluetooth in the user’s phone to access audio messages from nearby beacons. It is designed to be used as an additional tool to complement other mobility aids, such as a cane or guide dog.

 

Additionally, new virtual GPS beacons have been created at intersections along Bourke and Swanston streets and sections of Flinders Lane and Degraves Street.

 

The technology also uses new physical beacons, installed in prominent locations including Ross House, Melbourne Town Hall, Melbourne Visitor Hub at Town Hall, City Library and the Degraves Street underpass.

 

The beacons work with either the paid version of Blindsquare or the free Blindsquare Event phone apps, which are commonly used by people with low vision or blindness to access information about key locations. Messages are available in 25 different languages.

 

Beacon technology has been successfully implemented by Guide Dogs Victoria at all city loop train stations, Richmond and Footscray railway stations, Melbourne Zoo, District Docklands Shopping Centre, and the recent Grand Prix.

 

“Everyone deserves to enjoy our beautiful city, so it’s important that we continue to work as a community to make public spaces, events and experiences more accessible than ever,” added Karen Hayes, CEO, Guide Dogs Victoria.

 

“We commend the city of Melbourne for [its] collaboration in further bringing this exciting technology to life across the city, and we look forward to seeing more organisations do the same.”

 

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