The City of St. John’s has launched a pilot project to make the downtown pedestrian mall inclusive for people who are blind or partly blind — but a disability justice advocate says the way the city has implemented the project excludes her and many others. The city has partnered with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) and Frontier Accessibility to launch BlindSquare, a navigation app that allows people with low vision or blindness to navigate the mall safely.
Only Apple smartphones can run the BlindSquare software, which restricts who can use it. In Downtown St. John’s, a poster promotes the BlindSquare mobile application. A QR Code on the poster enables people to download the iPhone app. The City of St. John’s and the CNIB have started a pilot project to introduce BlindSquare, a navigation app designed to assist persons who are blind or poorly sighted in safely navigating the pedestrian mall. (CBC/Katie Breen)
“The most important piece is that it gives more independence to a person with sight loss. So I don’t necessarily need someone to go with me to give me all that information about what’s around me and where I am,” Morgan said Wednesday. “It’s giving me a lot of information that I might not necessarily be able to pick up as I walk along because I don’t see signage or other indicators.” A man walks down the road in Downtown St. John’s. He’s blind, and is walking with a white cane and a phone to give him directions.
The app uses GPS technology to show the location of things like businesses, sidewalk curb cuts and public seating. It also gives directions based on orientation and allows for custom markers, allowing users to make their way confidently around the mall. The app is used in other provinces to help people access public transit, parks and more. Duane Morgan, vice-president of Atlantic Canada for the CNIB and a user of the app himself, says it’s a game changer for getting around the area.
“The city wants everyone to enjoy what we have, and we don’t want to exclude any portion of the population,” Hanlon said Wednesday. “We’re all about trying to find out other ways that we can make it more inclusive, because we want everyone to come down and enjoy, not just the pedestrian mall, we want everyone to enjoy the city.”
Duane Morgan is blind and is able to traverse the downtown pedestrian mall through the help of BlindSquare. He says it’s a game changer for navigating the area. (Katie Breen/CBC) Morgan said the CNIB will work with the city to do more testing and give feedback on how the project worked, or where else it could be used. St. John’s Coun. Debbie Hanlon, the city’s lead on accessibility, said the project has been in the works for two years and that it’s exciting to launch the app.