Ray of connection for the blind in the Christchurch Cultural Precinct

Tuesday 13 October 2009, 12:47PM

By Christchurch City Council


An electronic device that goes one better than GPS, allowing blind people to navigate public buildings is being installed in the Christchurch Cultural Precinct.

From White Cane Day (Thursday 15 October), 60 SoundPost Orientation System base stations at the entrances, elevators and information counters of public buildings and other significant landmarks in the Cultural Precinct will communicate recorded messages to handheld devices, steering blind users to them with pinpoint accuracy.

The base stations will be installed in the area starting from the ChristChurch Cathedral and Square, around the Art Gallery and up to the Canterbury Museum at the end of Worcester Boulevard.

Designed and built in Christchurch by Povidi NZ Ltd, a technology start-up, the SoundPost Orientation System is effective up to 30 metres. The system is a two device infrared-based direction finding system that aids blind and visually impaired users in walking in a direct line to a given point, thus allowing for accurate orientation in semi open space.

Mayor Bob Parker has applauded the innovative project, saying it was a great solution to a challenging problem. “Another barrier for the vision-impaired has been removed to provide greater accessibility in the Central City. This is a smart solution that can be replicated in communities around the country for people who are facing similar challenges.”

The SoundPost system has the full support of the Mayor, who says: “The Council’s philosophy is to find and invest in what works and partnering with and supporting others who are leading change in their communities.”

Providi’s dynamic and innovative work in the Cultural Precinct drives not only improved social outcomes, but the potential for economic growth also, both directly and indirectly, says the Mayor. “It is a great example of public-private innovation partnership.”

Povidi founder Darryl Sherwood says the base stations will provide recorded voice information that gives details for that structure, pinpointing “Information” or “Escalator” or “Entry” on a prompt.

“Talking GPS systems already aid the blind to navigate and get to a public space, the white cane or guide dog helps in avoiding obstacles, but finding the door, the information counter or the elevators severely restricts access to public buildings and spaces for the blind,” says Mr Sherwood.

“We now have an urban city installation that allows us to show to universities, airports, other councils and many other organisations with public access, how this product will change accessibility for the blind," he says.