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App to unlock St Albans for visually impaired


Mark Say Managing Editor

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A community group in St Albans is aiming to develop a local version of an app for visually impaired people.

St Albans Unlocked has been set up to provide the local data for the Soundscape app, which has been developed under a partnership between Microsoft and the charity Guide Dogs.

It is based on Open Street Map (OSM), which draws data from a community of mappers, and gives users the ability to set audio beacons at specific destinations and places. It then provides 3D audio cues to improve their awareness of the surroundings.

It can also identify points of interest such as shops and specific buildings, roads and intersections, and is designed to be used alongside more traditional means of navigation, not replace them.

Amanda Derrick, one of the founders of St Albans Unlocked, said it was set up to update and curate data for the area, which was regarded as incomplete, to populate the app.

It has been working with community stakeholders including St Albans City and District Council, the local enterprise partnership and business improvement district, some local companies and charities, along with the Royal National Institute for the Blind.

It ran a community workshop in July and is aiming to get some guidance from OSM and run another event later in the year.

There are also efforts to crowdfund the initiative through the Spacehive platform, and to get more of the city retail businesses involved.

“We are definitely not finished nor have we achieved our objectives so we are a community project in progress,” Derrick said. “We see it as building digital infrastructure for our city like others might raise money for improving the physical infrastructure of a playground in a park in St Albans.”

She added that the app also has potential for helping people with learning disabilities or in the early stages of dementia, and if the project is successful it could lead to the development of a toolkit for other areas to make use of the app.

Image: St Albans from the Clock Tower, by Przemyslaw Sakrajda - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

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