CNIB Installs App-Enabled Info Beacons for Visually Impaired in Toronto Neighbourhood

By Anastasia V. Silva 10/5/17 |

Two CNIB representatives canvass the neighbourhood to get businesses to sign on for the beacons — photo courtesy of CNIB.

The CNIB, the century-old Canadian charity dedicated to improving the lives of the blind or partially sighted, has started to install beacons in the Yonge-St. Clair area of Toronto, which will improve accessibility for those in the neighbourhood with visual impairments. Two hundred shops and restaurants are expected to come on board at no cost to them.

The beacons — described in the press release as “small battery-powered devices that silently ‘communicate’ pre-programmed information about the businesses to users via the BlindSquare iPhone app“ — are part of the organization’s ShopTalk: BlindSquare Enabled program and will help the visually impaired in the area make better-informed purchases.

The first to sign on are Shoppers Drug Mart, New Balance, David Scott Beauty, Frontier Computing, and Paperboy Cards & Gifts, which had the beacons installed by CNIB staff.

Photo courtesy of CNIB
Once installed in participating store entrances, the devices transmit, through low-frequency Bluetooth signals, pertinent pre-programmed information through the app, such as the store name, kinds of products for sale, and how to manoeuvre throughout the space.  Available in many languages, other features include bus stop locations and names of nearby roads.

Empowering the visually impaired with prior knowledge about their local businesses is the main impetus behind the program.

“People with sight loss are capable of navigating spaces like you and I – just a little differently," Angela Bonfanti, CNIB Ontario GTA executive director, said in a statement. "This initiative allows them to live fuller lives and better participate in society."

The Rick Hansen Foundation's Canada 150 Access4All Program, whose goal is to eliminate obstacles for people living with disabilities, is credited with providing $26,080 of funding for the recent venture — aptly referred to as a 'Barrier Buster' project — the bulk of which received backing from the Canadian government.

“With support from the Government of Canada and the Rick Hansen Foundation, CNIB wants to help ensure that every individual has the opportunity to realize their full potential, and it begins with creating inclusive and accessible communities all across our nation,” said Bonfanti in the June release, which announced the partnership and launch of the BlindSquare Enabled beacons.

The neighborhood's CNIB Community Hub, which opened in June at 1525 Yonge Street and is also BlindSquare Enabled, is a support centre for those who suffer from sight loss, as well as a comfortable place where the visually impaired can converse with one another, while adapting new skills through the non-profit's Vision Loss Rehabilitation Canada training programs.

Established in 1918, originally as the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (rebranding in 2010), the CNIB is entirely dependent on charitable funding and has long-been advocating the rights of the visually impaired — from representing their voices in regards to government legislation — to recruiting volunteers. At the end of 2016, the CNIB and its group of volunteers, donated more than 560,000 hours of service across Canada.

According to the CNIB website, one in seven Canadians will suffer from some form of sight loss in their lifetime. More than 5,000 partially sighted people per year benefit from the organization's Toronto services, most notably, the CNIB Guide Dog program, which raises and trains dogs. On April 1, the organization established the CNIB Foundation, which is committed to raising donations for adult and youth rehab services.


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