Indoor Navigation and Participation

More than ten years ago, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities came into force. The UN Convention demands inclusion, i.e. the equal participation of all people in social life. Short-range radio technologies such as Bluetooth Low Energy allow us to realise the human right to genuine participation in social, cultural and working life.  That sounds pretentious, but it’s true.

 Because participation also includes being able to find one’s way around complex buildings – for example in large Public authority buildings and buildings frequented by the general public  – without outside help. Buildings in which people can already fail without restrictions present almost impassable obstacles for people with mobility and visual impairments and/or blindness.

The solution can be the combination of classic and electronic guidance systems. The advantages of an electronic, beacon-based indoor navigation system are especially evident at crossings and intersections. Although visually impaired or blind people can follow a path system, such as a tactile floor covering, it is not possible for them to see on the basis of the floor covering alone where a path leads them. In fact, it is no longer a problem today to have an electronic assistant announce a route through a building in real time. Thanks to numerous apps and speech assistants, mobile devices are proving to be a valuable everyday aid for blind people. The ability of indoor positioning systems to trigger certain actions on the user’s mobile phone based on the current position opens up equal access to digital building information for everyone. The information includes one’s own position in the building (where am I), a targeted route (where can I go), information about the immediate surroundings (what do I see, who/what is behind this door), instructions and escape routes (how do I behave).

 The sensors (beacons) in the building can be retrofitted cheaply, quickly and during operation. Even faster and cheaper than a classic tactile guidance system. What decision makers seem to lack is knowledge and will. Such electronic positioning and navigation systems have long been in use. But not in public authorities, etc., but on cruise ships, for example. There, they are now regarded as indispensable components of a comfortable and carefree on-board experience for paying guests. Everyone should be able to orient themselves quickly and relax as quickly as possible in the unusual and complex environment. In the smart office sector, sensor infrastructures are regarded as enabler technology for work 4.0.

 And this is exactly what indoor positioning and navigation systems can do, even in public buildings: they enable people to participate in a self-determined way to which they are entitled.