Travel Tech

Although most of us take our able-bodied status for granted, it is worth noting that a very significant percentage of the population lives with some form of disability. According to the English Federation for Disability Sport, 9.4 million people in the UK are registered disabled, which amounts to 18 percent of the population.

This is a pretty significant proportion in itself, but, of course, the prevalence rate of disability also rises significantly with age. While only 5 percent of children can be considered disabled, over one in five working age adults in the UK carries some form of disability, and nearly 50 percent of those over the state pension age are considered disabled in some form or other.

Disability and the Tourist Industry

The prevalence of a disability can have a significant influence over the tourist industry, even though the needs of disabled passengers can sometimes be discounted. But every airline in particular understands the need to embrace disabled customers, both for legal and commercial reasons.

It is interesting then that the mainstream technology press has recently been covering an interesting way in which destinations can utilise technology to make trips more enjoyable for a disadvantaged group. Life can be challenging for visually impaired people, but a group of students have tackled some of the issues that people of this disability face with a new technology called Wayfindr.

This smartphone-compatible system is based on a pretty simple premise - Bluetooth iBeacons and a smartphone’s location are used in concert to deliver turn-by-turn audio directions for journeys on a public transportation system. Actually the intention is to make public transportation easier for the visually impaired to utilise on a regular basis.

How does Wayfindr work?

Directions used by the Wayfindr system are determined by trilateration (the process of determining locations of points by measurement of distances), while the various inputs which are fed into the smartphone application also enable distances to be judged via the radius of surrounding circles. Once distances and route have been calculated, these are then fed and relayed to a traveller via bone-conducting earphones. This sophisticated technology enables directions to be conveyed to the visually impaired person via vibrations through their skull.

Wayfindr has been produced by a group of London students, and the project is part of the Youth Forum of the Royal London Society for Blind People. The group in question has worked closely with global design studio ustwo with the intention of designing and constructing a solution for the 9,000 visually impaired young people that currently reside in England's capital city.

In order to achieve this aim, the group involved built a layer of sixteen iBeacons at one station; Pimlico. The trial of this technology has just been completed, and the test deployment of it will now enable the team to analyse and understand what was successful and flawed during this initial process. In time it is hoped that the Wayfindr system could be utilised on a city-wide basis - and even possibly beyond London - which would certainly be a huge boost for not only native residents of London, but also the many thousands of overseas travellers with visual impairments that visit London on a regular basis.

The Evolving Mobile Climate

While developing such technology remains in its relative infancy, the vast mobile phone network and the sophistication of modern mobile technology ensures collectively that such apps are now feasible. Whereas in the past, either mobile phone technology was too relatively primitive in order to process such a system, or the network was inadequate, today it is possible for increasingly complex applications taking advantage of the specific qualities of mobile phones to operate effectively.

Wayfindr underlines the importance of never discounting groups that are often little-known or considered by the general public. Of course, destinations and travel-related companies should always be fully aware of their legal obligations to disabled people. This goes without saying, and indeed it is often advisable to exceed the minimum that is legally required for disabled people. This has both ethical and commercial benefits, and can generally create a positive image for a particular company or destination.

Additionally, as modern technology makes disabled people's lives easier, and opens up new possibilities for them on an almost weekly basis, disabled people as a demographic are also becoming a valid group for destinations and travel companies to attract. Paying heed to the particular needs of disabled groups, and attempting to factor that into the overall strategy of a destination or business, can be an extremely valuable and laudable undertaking.

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