Nfld. & Labrador

Pilot project testing tech to help vision-impaired pedestrians use crosswalks

Municipalities on the Northeast Avalon are testing new technology to increase the safety and ease of using crosswalks for people with disabilities including sight loss. 

Phone app and fob help people with vision loss cross streets safely

Cindy Antle of Paradise says she has been using the Key2Access technology for a couple of months. She says it allows her to go for walks without having someone with her. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Municipalities on the northeast Avalon are testing new technology to increase the safety and ease of using crosswalks for people with disabilities including sight loss.

The pilot project, called Key2Access, allows pedestrians to access crosswalk push buttons with a fob or through a mobile app that includes audio instructions.

"An announcement like this means, absolutely, freedom, it means confidence, it means safety, it means accessibility — which is a real catchphrase I know, but that's what it means," Cindy Antle, who is legally blind, told CBC News.

"It means being able to be out in your community and your community being accessible to you." 

Antle has been pressing the Town of Paradise — which has, along with St. John's and Mount Pearl, signed on to the pilot project — to make the town more accessible. 

The fob and the app can also tell the user street names and information to improve their ability to identify environmental factors so they can cross streets safely.

Key2Access's technology allows people with vision loss to use a phone app or a fob to access crosswalk buttons and hear instructions on safely crossing streets. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Each municipality has chipped in to purchase the fobs, which are then being distributed by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. The CNIB is also offering training for those who want to use the mobile app. 

Antle said she has been using the technology for a couple of months while the weather is fine. As winter comes on, she said, she'll be using it less, but for now it has been working well.

"It's made it so that I don't have to have someone with me. I can go independently, do this myself and feel that freedom," she said.

The tech

The CNIB was contacted by the Ottawa-based Key2Access to see if the organization would be interested in its idea. The CNIB then helped to complete the development of the technology, according to the CNIB's Debbie Ryan.

Ryan said there are a few more bonuses to the new program on top of it being user-friendly and liberating. 

"This technology is less expensive than the traditional accessible pedestrian signals that are on the market. It doesn't require retrofitting.… With this technology you just drop it into the existing infrastructure," she said.

Debbie Ryan, CNIB Foundation program lead, says she hopes the pilot project gains interest in other areas of the Newfoundland and Labrador. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

So far St. John's has three intersections and four crosswalks fitted with Key2Access: 

  • Kenna's Hill and The Boulevard.
  • Westerland Road and Prince Philip Drive.
  • Cowan Avenue and Topsail Road.
  • The Boulevard near the CNIB entrance.
  • King's Bridge Road and Winter Avenue.
  • Elizabeth Avenue and Newton Road.
  • Elizabeth Avenue and Freshwater Road.

Mount Pearl currently has three signalized intersections and two stop sign intersections with virtual beacons fitted on Commonwealth Avenue where it intersects with:

  • Topsail Road.
  • Ruth Avenue.
  • Centennial Street.
  • Glendale Avenue.
  • St. David's Avenue.

Paradise has three signalized intersections and three stop sign sections with a virtual beacon installed on Topsail Road, where it intersects with:

  • Paradise Road.
  • Karwood Drive.
  • Carlisle Drive.
  • Sunvalley Drive.
  • Shelby Street.
  • Elizabeth Drive.

St. John's has spent $25,000 on the pilot project, Mount Pearl has spent $8,000 and Paradise has spent $11,520, with 50 per cent of that being federally funded.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Meg Roberts

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