aids such as lifts and ramps. A few years ago, Spanish travellers were introduced to NaviLens, a system that integrated brightly-coloured tags paired with mobile phones and designed to work alongside traditional sight aids such as canes and guide dogs. Using a free app and the phone’s camera, users are able to scan their environment to locate the tags to fi nd lifts, platforms, stairs, escalators, and ticket machines. The system, developed by the Mobile Vision Research Lab at the University of Alicante and the technology company Neosistec, was initially rolled out in Barcelona and has spread to Madrid and Murcia following the pilot on a small section of the Barcelona transport network. Barcelona itself is extending the system to its 2,400 bus stops and 159 metro stations as part of broader eff orts to make the city’s transport network more accessible. Madrid’s Atocha railway station has gone one step further, experimenting with using the tags on tactile paving, creating patterns of textured bumps on the ground that share warnings and information with visually impaired pedestrians.

HELPING THE DISABLED IN ALL LANGUAGES Until now, tactile paving solutions have only been able to provide general clues, such as telling someone they’ve reached a spot where they need to change direction to reach a platform. Javier Pita, CEO of NaviLens, described it this way: “We’ve tried to simulate the same behaviour as human vision ... it’s like using the camera of the phone as the eyes of a visually impaired person.” There have been additional benefi ts. The system’s ability to transmit

information in multiple languages has found an audience among non- visually impaired tourists visiting Barcelona from places such as Japan who have been using the system as a way to translate directional signboards in the transit system into their own languages. Advances in communications technology have made a signifi cant

diff erence to the lives of people with visual impairments — 253 million in the world, according to a World Health Organisation estimate — as



an ever-increasing number of tools for navigation are available on the market. Among them is the Aira app, which is available for free in supermarkets all over the United States and several airports globally. Tokyo Metro has started testing an audio guidance system at Shin-Kiba and Tatsumi stations along the Yurakucho subway line. Visually impaired commuters can receive audio directions by scanning a QR code installed on the Braille blocks with a smartphone camera. Another, known as T.APP that has been designed for home use to help, not just those with sight issues, but also hearing variations, dyslexia or cognition defi cits, has built-in speech synthesis which welcomes visitors with a message when they enter. Transmitters - or beacons – can be placed on the fl oor, walls or ceilings and issue push messages to the user, sending voice messages directly to smartphones. Other companies have created simple, more physical, options such as Caesar of Italy which produces raised

that are easily

identifi ed when crossed allowing tactile pathways to be formed. And the Top Clean aluminium profi le mats with integrated guidance strips created by the UK’s Geggus Matting Systems.

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