For anyone who has travelled on London’s underground transport, commonly referred to as the ‘Tube,’ you may have felt lost in a complex maze of crossing subway lines, escalators and stairs while navigating through swarms of people to find your train and, of course, to ‘mind the gap.’
Now imagine the added challenges if you could not see.
For the nearly 2 million people in the United Kingdom with visual impairments, travelling the Tube often requires riders to ask for assistance. But now, a new Open Standard for indoor navigation is paving the way for people with limited eyesight to navigate more freely.
An assistive technology, The Wayfindr Open Standard, is a radically new innovation that combines wireless Augmented Reality (AR), audio navigation and remote sensing to help those with visual impairment to find their way in indoor areas.
Last week, the open standard was presented at the M-Enabling Summit Conference and Showcase, co-organized by ITU, as an award-winning Indoor Navigation and Remote Visual Support Service.
The Wayfindr Open Standard was adopted internationally when it was approved by ITU as an international standard last year. The new standard, called Recommendation ITU-T F.921, is recognized by the 193 ITU Member States and as an international standard, it is available for use by all seeking expert guidance on how to build and develop accessible interoperable communications infrastructure.
Wayfindr, a UK-based non-profit organization, aims to continue work in this domain within ITU following its admission to participate in the forthcoming meeting of ITU-T SG16 under ITU’s ongoing SME Pilot Project.
“An open standard provides startups, social enterprises and stakeholders in industry, government, and civil society with an opportunity to empower communities around the world, in particular in the Global South, by giving them access to freely available information and technical criteria about how to design and develop indoor navigation systems that are accessible for persons with disabilities,” says George Anthony Giannoumis from Oslo Metropolitan University, the Vice-rapporteur for ITU-D Study Group 1 on Enabling environment for the development of telecommunications/ICTs and ITU-T Study Group 16 Editor for Recommendation F.921 Audio-based network navigation system for persons with vision impairment.
“The Wayfindr Open Standard provides a mechanism for ensuring personal mobility and access to state-of-the-art technology for persons with disabilities, in particular persons who are blind or partially sighted.” – George Anthony Giannoumis, Vice-rapporteur, ITU-D Study Group 1;ITU-T Study Group 16 Editor for Recommendation F.921.
Since its adoption, it has gone on to win numerous awards, including from Zero Project recognizing the Standard as the winner of Innovative Policy 2018 on Accessibility.
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Indoor Audio Navigation and wireless AR services can significantly enhance the independence and mobility of blind persons. And the adoption of indoor audio navigation will be of particular help to 285 million vision impaired people around the world whose lives are dramatically improved when able to navigate independently through indoor environments.
“Fundamentally, the Wayfindr Open Standard provides a mechanism for ensuring personal mobility and access to state-of-the-art technology for persons with disabilities, in particular persons who are blind or partially sighted,” believes Giannoumis.
“In this way, when urban planners, technology developers, and policy makers adopt the Wayfindr open standard, they are supporting the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which obligates national governments to ensure personal mobility and independence for persons with disabilities,” says Giannoumis.
ITU-D Study Group 1 looks at the enabling environment necessary for the development of telecommunications/ICTs. And specifically, Question 7/1 explores: Access to telecommunication/ICT services by persons with disabilities and other persons with specific needs.
ITU‑T Study Group 16 looks at multimedia coding, systems and applications and is responsible for studies relating to ubiquitous multimedia applications, multimedia capabilities for services and applications for existing and future networks.
ITU’s Study Groups are composed of Member States and Sector Members (including Associates and Academia) who share experiences, present ideas, exchange views, and achieve consensus on appropriate strategies to address ICT priorities.
As Giannoumis explained, the work of the ITU’s study groups embodies “a collaborative process that includes industry, government and civil society. It is a bottom-up process that is community driven, responsive to a variety of perspectives, and ensures fair and reasonably ownership by all parties. This process is not time bound in the sense that there is a clear beginning and end, but instead is a continually evolving approach to iteratively designing, publishing, learning and redesigning the standard. In the end, this provides a continuously updated document that uses cutting-edge knowledge to provide practitioners and policy makers with the guidance to innovate and amplify their work.”
“Academia can play a key role in any standards development, and in particular scholars in human rights, public policy, computer science, disability studies, and human-computer interaction can provide critical insights and knowledge of the state-of-the-art in scientific theories and methods that enable the development of standards for ICT accessibility to have a substantive impact on the lives of persons with disabilities,” says Giannoumis.
If you are a member of a University or Research Institution and are interested in international standardization processes, visit our Academia page for more information.