Ready to Launch: Assistive Technology Helps People with Visual Impairment Enjoy Public Places in a New Way

A photo of a smartphone in the LaunchGuide location, with a sign reading "BRAILLE TRAIL START" pointing to the phone in the wire guides and a caption on the photo that reads "[smartphone:] Welcome to the Dennis Braille Trail"

LaunchGuide in action at the Dennis Braille Trail

Post by Brian Klotz

If you’ve been to a number of locations in Massachusetts, including the Dennis Braille Trail in Dennis, MA, you may have noticed something new: a device with a QR code that can be read by your smartphone. Called LaunchGuide, this new device was created to help people with visual impairment enjoy public places with content that not only helps them navigate, but adds to the experience, and it is yet another example of the creative ways assistive technology is becoming more prevalent.

Designed by an assistive technology company called COMMplements (the brand name of products of Peacock Communications), LaunchGuide can be used by anyone with an Internet-connected device capable of reading a QR code. Each LaunchGuide location is equipped with a wire guide that helps the user position their smartphone so it can read the code. This takes them to a webpage with content unique to that location – for example, information about the exhibits in a museum or the stops along a trail, which the user can have read to them using text-to-speech as they explore.

An example of a QR code

An example of a QR code

By housing content on a webpage, users can select how and in what order they experience it, as opposed to a linear audio tour.

“Audio tours can force you to go through an entire monologue,” says Jack Peacock, head of Peacock Communications, “and if you’re not interested in the particular subject matter, it can create boredom and apathy.  We want the user to determine their own destiny.  Don’t like that category of objects in the museum?  Skip that section and enjoy the content that does interest you.”

Another creative use of this technology is in helping the user to navigate their surroundings. Since the LaunchGuide devices have a fixed location relative to certain destinations, such as bathrooms, guest service counters, galleries, etc., they can provide the user with accurate, detailed instructions for navigating to these destinations.

Peacock created LaunchGuide so that individuals with low or no vision could feel included and independent, and even reconnect with places they used to visit.

“We’ve been told many times that they miss going to different venues, and don’t feel they can return because the venue doesn’t have any content for them to enjoy.  We aim to correct that situation, and we are also interested in hearing from the people using LaunchGuide of the places where they would like to see the product – those places that they used to patronize.”

In addition to the Dennis Braille Trail, LaunchGuides are currently located at the Worcester Senior Center, the Museum of Russian Icons, and at the Helen Keller exhibit at the Brewster Historical Society Museum.  In the near future they are set to be installed at four more museums in Massachusetts, and Peacock is working to have them installed in even  more venues going forward.

Speaking on assistive technology (AT) in general, Peacock claims to have seen the industry expand by leaps and bounds in recent years, as smartphones and tablets continue to improve on features designed to help people with different abilities, and apps designed for these devices improve their accessibility.

“Costs are also starting to drop,” Peacock says. “AT firms in the past priced their products out of the reach of all but those who had the resources to afford them.  More powerful and less expensive technologies are opening the door to better and less expensive solutions.  Funding is always an issue, so designing simple, cost-effective solutions is one part of the puzzle.”

In addition to further inclusion in public venues and enjoying more accessible products in their own homes, Peacock believes AT can play an important role in “the push for the rights of differently abled individuals to enter the workforce, by employers who realize that a small investment in assistive technology can pay big dividends.  We’ve seen a start to that movement in the last few years, but I think it is gaining momentum.”

To learn more about LaunchGuide, visit http://www.commplements.com/launchguide.htm.

Learn about how the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired can help you or a loved one with assistive technology by calling (888) 613-2777 or visiting our website.

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