New app-based project launches in Regina to help people with vision loss navigate downtown

Ashley Nemeth says a new project in Regina "Is huge for somebody who's blind or partially sighted."

Project made possible through anonymous donation to CNIB

The CNIB project helps people with vision loss find their way downtown using Bluetooth beacons that transmit information to the free BlindSquare Enabled app. (Tyler Pidlubny/CBC)

Ashley Nemeth uses a service dog to help her get around and says she's all too familiar with accessibility challenges in downtown Regina.

"I avoided 12th Avenue at all costs because it's shared space between traffic and pedestrians, but it's all the same level," said Nemeth, program lead for advocacy with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

"There's no way for me to know — am I in the middle of the road where traffic should be, or am I where I'm safe?"

But a new project in Regina aims to make it easier and safer for people with vision loss to navigate their way around downtown, especially in Victoria Park and City Square Plaza.

It was launched by CNIB on Tuesday.

Several beacons have been installed at businesses and points of interest around downtown. Those beacons use Bluetooth technology to relay information to a free app called BlindSquare Enabled, which then explains to users where they are and some of their surroundings.

"This kind of app is huge for somebody who's blind or partially sighted," said Nemeth.

"It really gives you the visual information of the world around you in the palm of your hand," she said.

"With this app I can now go through the park and I know exactly where I'm going to end up … so I have a better idea of what's going on, and I can really take part in the activities in downtown."

'It's a no brainer'

CNIB was able to set up beacons at The Copper Kettle, O'Hanlons, Pressed Sandwich, SaskPower, city hall and the Regina Public Library through an anonymous donation. 

Anna Gardikiotis is part of the family that owns The Copper Kettle restaurant and O'Hanlons pub.

She said "it's a no brainer" when asked why her family's businesses signed up.

"We want to welcome people from all throughout our community to downtown. We have a lot of local businesses and we want to share in the environment with them."

Gardikiotis said becoming involved in the project opened her eyes to some of the accessibility issues downtown.

"It broadens your perspective for sure, and that's why I say accessibility has many layers and we need to open up our minds to it."

She is also encouraging other businesses in Regina to sign up for BlindSquare Enabled.

Hopes for expansion

Christall Beaudry, executive director of CNIB Foundation Saskatchewan, said Victoria Park is the first inner-city park in Canada to implement BlindSquare Enabled. She's hoping to expand the program in Regina.

"We would love to make it accessible in a lot of locations throughout our city," she said, noting it can be used in grocery stores and stadiums to help blind or partially sighted people find their seats.

"That would be a huge game-changer for the blind community," said Beaudry.

The anonymous donation covers expenses for the first year of the project.


Cory Coleman is a journalist for CBC Saskatchewan.


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