2YH: New app helps visually impaired students navigate UAA's campus

Aubrie Lucas was born blind, but now she's using UAA's new Wayfinding App to help her navigate...
Aubrie Lucas was born blind, but now she's using UAA's new Wayfinding App to help her navigate campus easier. (KTUU)
Published: Sep. 24, 2019 at 7:40 AM AKDT
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A new type of technology called the Wayfinding App is helping students who are visually impaired or have low vision the opportunity to get around a lot easier.

For most people, they have a daily routine. Take a moment to think about waking up, getting out of bed and going to the kitchen. Now imagine walking that same route with your eyes are closed. At the University of Alaska Anchorage, visually impaired and low vision students have to rely a lot on memory to get around campus, that is until a new type of technology has now become a second set of eyes.

For most students, navigating UAA's campus doesn't take much thought, but for Aubrie Lucas, it hasn't been as easy. She's been able to get around campus using her cane, but thanks to new technology, she now has an additional resource to help her out.

It's called the Wayfinding App and Assistive Technology Specialist Heather Swanson is part of the team that brought it to UAA.

"It tells you where on campus you are, what building you're at what location, where the bathrooms are, the elevator," she said.

The app connects to a beacon system. Sensors are strategically placed around campus. They work through blue tooth and connect to a tablet or smartphone, allowing students like Aubrie the confidence to get around.

"Going from the sports complex, for example, I actually didn't know there were bathrooms in there like where the stairs were so I had just been passing through it, I had no idea," said Lucas.

The project was two years in the making. Every building has one making UAA the first campus in the world to fully map and install the campus-wide technology.

"So far our students have loved it, they have said this made getting around campus so much easier, I didn't feel like I had to be stressed out figuring out where I was going," said Swanson.

"When you address the needs of the people on the lowest part of the totem pole whether it's elderly, whether it's the disabled it really does raise the tide for everybody, it's community it's an investment," added Nate Kile, who is visually impaired and also helped developers with placement of the beacons.

The Wayfinding app is free and available for both android and iPhone users, but the audio portion is not available on the android. There are 232 sensors around campus. According to Swanson, the project cost about $97,000 with $92,000 coming from a grant.

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