App boosts accessibility at cultural facilities

08 Dec 2022

City of Newcastle (CN) has become the first organisation in the Hunter to embrace a mobile phone app that empowers people with vision impairment to navigate new spaces.

Implemented as part of CN's commitment to improving access at its cultural facilities, BindiMaps is a wayfinding/interpretive app that provides an audio 'map' of a building that can help people with low or no vision better navigate their way around.

The technology was successfully trialled at Newcastle Museum in 2021 and has now been rolled out to several other CN sites including Museum Park, Civic Theatre, City Hall, and Newcastle Library.

BindiMaps utilises a network of Bluetooth beacons, a mapping and route guidance system and smartphone sensors to describe to the user where they are, what’s around them, and the best way to get to their chosen destination.

Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said the technology provides a more user-friendly experience for people with vision impairment visiting our cultural facilities by making unfamiliar spaces easier and more efficient to navigate.

"The implementation of BindiMaps is part of our commitment to ensuring Newcastle is a liveable, sustainable and inclusive global city for all who live, visit or work here," Cr Nelmes said.

Councillor Margaret Wood, co-chair of the Access Inclusion Advisory Committee, said it was pleasing to see positive outcomes from the Disability Inclusion Action Plan (DIAP) 2022-2026.

"Improving accessibility at our cultural facilities is one of the actions of our DIAP, which outlines how we can further enhance access and inclusion for the entire community,” Cr Wood said.

"The BindiMaps program will augment our plan to improve building access and accessibility features, and to provide more accessible and inclusive programming."

Director Museum Archive Libraries and Learning Julie Baird said BindiMaps had boosted efforts to make Newcastle Museum an accessible, vibrant, and inclusive centre for everyone.

"We launched BindiMaps just before a Sea, Space & Beyond exhibition, which featured artworks created by the blind, low vision and sighted communities, and there was a huge upswing in satisfaction rates," Ms Baird said.

"BindiMaps enabled us to practically support improvements in other areas and we found it was the icing on the cake to help make vision impaired visitors more comfortable within the space and meet their needs.

"The response has been so positive that it's provided new opportunities to reach audiences who perhaps thought we weren't available or suitable for them."