BlindSquare: The world beyond the tip of your cane

Finnish company MIPsoft improves the lives of individuals who are blind or partially sighted with their accessible smartphone apps.

In March 2015, CNIB awarded the Winston Gordon Award for excellence in accessible technology to MIPsoft for their GPS-style app “BlindSquare”.

MIPsoft has taken GPS navigation to a new level with their app BlindSquare – available for purchase through Apple’s App Store. It uses GPS, your phone’s compass and FourSquare to deliver information verbally about what is around you. The app also gives users the ability to plan out an entire trip before leaving home – whether getting on a bus, hailing a cab, selecting a place to eat or just walking down an unfamiliar street with confidence. All of this is possible from the comfort of your couch.

“BlindSquare was built to solve many problems facing blind travellers daily," said Ilkka Pirttimaa, CEO and lead iOS developer at MIPsoft. "It’s a bit unusual as it’s an app that is continually being refined, not from our talents alone, but from the daily experiences of thousands of travellers who have come to enjoy new information, new choices and a bigger and safer world beyond the tip of their cane.”

The app also allows easier navigation inside buildings, through its beaconing positioning system (BPS). It alerts travelers to different areas inside a building such as a cafeteria, washroom, meeting room and other important markers they’d like to make through the use of their iCloud.

“I am truly looking forward to utilizing the indoor navigation capability of BlindSquare,” says Debbie Gillespie, CNIB’s accessibility coordinator who is blind. “It’s a natural fit for me, and opens up endless possibilities for independent navigation and way-finding. It is a welcome addition to my technology toolkit.”

In partnership with BlindSquare, CNIB in Canada and the Blind Foundation in New Zealand raised the bar for inclusivity by being the first organizations in their respective countries to install Beacon Positioning Systems. As of September 2015, BlindSquare offers indoor navigation by pairing its technology with iBeacons that are located throughout CNIB’s national office at 1929 Bayview Avenue in Toronto. These devices alert users to features such as a cafeteria, washroom or meeting room. The script for the iBeacons is customizable – it can contain a basic welcome message as well as navigational tips. As users move through the building, the iBeacons work in conjunction with BlindSquare to ensure important markers are announced.