Louisville International Airport is the “first fully accessible airport” in the nation (and possibly in the world), according to Craig Meador, president of the American Printing House for the Blind.
On Tuesday, the APH introduced wayfinding mobile technology that uses Bluetooth and beacon technology to help blind and visually impaired travelers navigate the airport.
The system, which was created with funding support from the James Graham Brown Foundation, uses more than 140 beacons placed every 30 or so yards to give users turn-by-turn directions and describe to them what is nearby.
“Every concourse is mapped, every gate, every restaurant, every bathroom, every ticket counter, baggage carousel can be found and identified using a navigation app such as Nearby Explorer,” Meador said at the unveiling event Tuesday. “We believe that a compassionate city is an accessible city.”
People can use the new technology by downloading the Nearby Explorer mobile application. There is a free version as well as one for $79.99. The paid version of the app offers additional features including the ability to save information.
Users can either get directions to a specific location or use the compass feature to identify places in a given direction. The application uses the beacon’s latitude, longitude, floor number and signal strength to figure out where the user is.
Meador said that one person told him that they didn’t even know the Louisville airport had a Smashburger until he used the new technology.
Larry Skutchan, director of technology products research for APH, is blind and said he had successfully navigated his way to the security checkpoints and his gates in the past but never knew which airline counter was which or what restaurants were there.
“Independence is bigger than most people can realize,” Skutchan said.
The Louisville airport is piloting the program, and if it goes well, then it could be expanded to other airports across country.
“Our goal is pretty simple. It’s to create an impact on the world by creating products that allow students and adults to fully access their world,” Meador said.