For immediate release ‐ January 26, 2016
Contact: Emelia Cowans, 919.707.9837. Images available upon request
Bluetooth iBeacons to increase accessibility for people who are blind or visually impaired
RALEIGH — The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences continues to broaden access and inclusion with the debut of a new indoor navigation system for people who are blind or visually impaired. An Open House will be held on Saturday, February 6 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. inside the Museum’s Nature Research Center (NRC). Thirty Bluetooth iBeacons, strategically placed throughout the NRC, will enable visitors with visual impairments to navigate the NRC independently. The battery-operated iBeacons (manufactured by Kontakt.io), which are about half the size of a hockey puck, send out a signal 3 – 4 times a second. Once positioning is determined, verbal wayfinding can commence announcing the location of nearby features such as stairs, elevators, exits, restrooms, cafes, and exhibits.
Visitors with visual impairments can access the system using the app BlindSquare – the most popular mobile GPS app for the blind — or the free version of that app, BlindSquare Event. BlindSquare complements the Museum’s NC NatSci app developed in 2014 that was specifically designed to meet the needs of all Museum visitors including those with disabilities. Both apps are only available on iOS devices.
The implementation of this kind of technology makes the Museum the first in the world to deploy a production iBeacon indoor navigation system for blind patrons, providing unprecedented access for visitors with visual impairments. The deployment within the Nature Research Center completes the first phase of a larger project at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. The next phase will include the Museum’s main building at 11 W. Jones Street and its Prairie Ridge Ecostation for Wildlife and Learning, 1671 Gold Star Drive in Raleigh. Along the way, the project will serve as a model for other venues that plan to use the same technology to increase access and inclusion.
“The Museum of Natural Sciences provides an important service to the community both from the standpoints of exploration and research, but also for its embrace of its visitors, inclusive of all abilities,” says Ilkka Pirttimaa, Inventor of BlindSquare and CEO of MIPsoft. “We are very pleased to be part of the expansion of this truth to facilitate indoor navigation for the friends, that we share, who are blind or low vision. The Museum is now in leading position with the use of this technology and providing an example for other museums and public facilities to follow. We applaud their vision and are thrilled to be part of their team in this important deployment.”
This project is the latest in a series of innovations that have transformed the Museum into a destination of choice for North Carolinians with disabilities. In 2013, the Museum started an annual event called the STEM Career Showcase for Students with Disabilities that connects students with disabilities and professionals with disabilities that are thriving in STEM fields. The following year, the Museum published the NatSci app “When we opened the Nature Research Center in 2012, it provided us with 80,000 more square-feet of exhibit space and created a good catalyst for reinvigorating that dedication to removing barriers and becoming more accessible here at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences,” says Liani Yirka, Coordinator of Accessibility and Inclusion at the Museum.
This project was made possible due to generous support from Ed Summers, Senior Manager of Accessibility and Applied Assistive Technology at SAS and Chair of the North Carolina Commission for the Blind. “I have been using GPS to navigate outdoors for years and it is very exciting to continue to hear information about my surroundings when I walk through the main entrance of the Nature Research Center,” say Summers. “Now I can use a single app to explore the museum independently, navigate the streets of Raleigh on foot, find a bus stop, and track my location while on the bus.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were approximately 242,200 North Carolinians with visual impairments in 2012. Many use long white canes or guide dogs to move safely. Until now, sighted assistance was required to build a mental map of large public buildings because the signal from GPS satellites are blocked while indoors. This new technology deployed at Museum’s Nature Research Center is a game-changer because it fills the void left by GPS satellites and enables people who are blind or visually impaired to learn the layout of a large public building without assistance from strangers. “I can’t wait to gain the same level of independent access to shopping malls, airports, and other large public spaces”, says Summers.
For more information about the iBeacon Open House contact Liani Yirka at 919.707.9887 or via email at email@example.com.
The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (11 W. Jones St. and 121 W. Jones St.) in downtown Raleigh, is the state’s most visited cultural attraction. It is an active research institution that engages visitors of every age and stage of learning in the wonders of science and the natural world, drawing them into the intriguing fields of study that are critical to the future of North Carolina. Hours: Mon.- Sat., 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sun., noon-5 p.m. Admission is free, however donations are appreciated and accepted. Visit the Museum on the Web at www.naturalsciences.org. Emlyn Koster, PhD, Director; Susan Kluttz, Secretary, N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources; Pat McCrory, Governor.