Saturday, February 28, 2009

England: Talking lamp post are installed to help the visually impaired

IF YOU heard a lamp-post talking, you might think you were going mad.

But speaking signs have been springing up to help blind and partially-sighted people.

Newcastle is one of the first places in the UK to pilot the RNIB React Talking Sign System, which aims to help visually impaired folk get around.

Speaker units can be fixed to lamp-posts on popular routes and are triggered by an electronic fob which users carry.

When the speaker is activated, it tells the user where they are and what is around them, helping them decide where to go next. And it talks in a North East accent.

Emily Clark of Sight Service, a Gateshead-based charity supporting visually impaired people, said: “It can give people confidence knowing they are in the right place. For someone who doesn’t know the town centre, I would say it’s particularly useful.

“I would imagine it’s quite surprising for people who hear it, because the speakers make these announcements to the whole street. Most people probably don’t understand why they suddenly start talking.”

The speakers have an 8m range, and the technology can tell from which direction people are approaching the speakers and give them the right information.

When a user approaches they will hear a short description of where they are, followed by a “bing-bong” noise, before a longer announcement of what is around them.

The pilot scheme began last year and has been well received by users so far.

The React system can also be linked to information boards in train and bus stations and at bus stops. Work is being done to find out whether this could be possible in Newcastle

There are some speakers in Monument and Haymarket Metro stations to help partially-sighted passengers find their way to the right train.

More are on lamp-posts on Northumberland Street, Blackett Street, Percy Street and on the way to Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary on Queen Victoria Road, where the city’s eye clinic is held.

Forty have been installed altogether.

Coun David Faulkner, the city council’s deputy leader, said: “React is a very good system and I think people will find it a very helpful navigational tool. This is just one of the extensions to our services to help visually impaired people.”

The speakers have a vandal-proof casing and can go high up on walls or lamp-posts to stop them being damaged.

The units can handle up to 16 messages of varying lengths and in any language.

The scheme will be officially launched on March 11.


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