Innovative Practice 2019 on Independent Living and Political Participation

An app for orientation in open and closed spaces

In 2011 the Israeli start-up company Step-Hear launched an app that provides orientation and audio messaging for people who are blind or visually impaired and for people with physical disabilities. Installed on a smart phone, it enables users to find their way in public surroundings using Audio-signs (radio signals that provide voice communications, guidance, and information) and pre-placed Beacons (radio transmitters that send Bluetooth signals). Users can call for help in an emergency and they can communicate with public transport personnel. As of 2018, Step-Hear has placed more than 3,500 Audio signs throughout Israel and plans to install the system for public transportation on at least 20 public transit lines in 2019.

“I certainly call this moment – the initial operation of the Step-Hear system on buses – the dawn of a new day!”

Amit UngerThe House of Wheels Association
About the practice at a glance
Name of Innovative Practice:Orientation app for the visually impaired
Organisation:Step-Hear
Country
of Implementation
Israel

FACTS & FIGURES

  • Step-Hear has signed up approximately 1,500 partners, including municipalities, shops, and banks (ATMs).
  • As of mid-2018, the app has been downloaded by more than 3,000 users.

PROBLEMS TARGETED

People with visual impairment often have difficulty finding their way in new surroundings, such as a shopping mall or a museum.

SOLUTION, INNOVATION, AND IMPACT

A Step Hear user in a bus.Step-Hear develops and markets assistive technologies designed to provide orientation and audio messaging for the blind and visually impaired in open and closed spaces. More than 3,500 Audio-signs have been placed throughout Israel, primarily in universities, hospitals, and parks. In addition, Step-Hear has signed up more than 1,500 locations (such as public transport vehicles, municipalities, public beaches, and banks) where pre-positioned Beacons communicate with the user’s smartphone. When the user comes close to a Step-Hear device and receives a signal, her/his smartphone vibrates, and the user can decide whether to receive information about the location via the smartphone as a voice message or from the Audio sign. With the same app, users can be informed about the approach of a public bus or send a message to the bus driver that he or she wants to get off at the next stop. Step-Hear is available in English, Hebrew, Turkish, and French among other languages, and has already expanded to Australia, Sweden, the United States, and elsewhere. In addition, Step-Hear has developed “Call-Hear” – a call-for-help system that signals when an individual on a company’s premises needs assistance or service.

The Step-Hear app can be downloaded free of charge and had some 3,000 users in 2018.

FUNDING, OUTLOOK AND TRANSFERABILITY

Step-Hear generates income from service providers that are interested in implementing the app and want to provide improved accessibility features for their customers/clients with disabilities. To finance expansion, the company received a loan from the Innovation Authority, a government institute.

Starting in 2018, Step-Hear is running a pilot project for an accessible public transportation system in Israel involving 70 buses and 170 bus stops. Step-Hear envisions that it will eventually offer an accessible “Waze for disabilities.” Waze is a GPS navigation software that works on smartphones and tablets with GPS support. It includes all accessible and inaccessible places and preferred access routes for people with various disabilities, including visual and intellectual. Moreover, Step-Hear will continue to expand its usage in other countries.

Step Hear placed in the bus.

FACTSHEET

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LINKS AND FURTHER READING