At Chicago-Area Hotel, A Wayfinding Tool for the Blind Debuts

CHICAGO—Creating a higher level of accessibility and autonomy, Loud Steps is a free WiFi-based indoor wayfinding tool for the blind and visually impaired that has made its U.S. debut.

“Loud Steps was born out of a need to deliver more independence to guests whose options are often limited to braille signs in environments overloaded with information for sighted people,” said John Callan, VP of operations – hospitality, Waterton, a real estate investment and operations firm. “This is a step forward. We’re offering a tool that can be operated in the palm of one’s hand.”

Developed by Boni Global, based here, the Loud Steps app provides accurate micro-location services and step-by-step directions to help users navigate unfamiliar spaces. The voiceover function provides instructions with step-by-step, turn-by-turn directions that announce distances and turns as needed to reach the chosen destination.

“There is no need for beacons. Most hotels are well-equipped with numerous WiFi access points, giving the app an abundance of radio signals to use for positioning. Loud Steps’ chief focus is navigating interior spaces, but with good WiFi coverage it can identify exits leading to outdoor amenities previously mapped by the hotel,” said Callan. “For now, Loud Steps is only available on the iPhone because the app takes advantage of Apple’s CoreLocation indoor positioning technology. Boni will be able to provide an Android version after Google releases a new operating system later this year.”

Waterton was introduced to Loud Steps’ development team through 1871, a technology incubator in Chicago. After the successful installation of a new WiFi version of Loud Steps at the Antalya Airport, an international airport in Antalya, Turkey, in 2017, the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Chicago — North Shore Conference Center in Skokie, IL, was selected as the second global launch site.

“Previously, the app had undergone testing with blind and visually impaired users at 1871 and the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind. We’ve received positive feedback from this community and made refinements during the testing process up until its launch,” he said. “The debut of Loud Steps at the DoubleTree is not a test run, but rather a fully formed implementation of the app, which is ready for widespread use. Hotel staff members are familiar with the technology and received training with sight-impaired instructors.”

It’s estimated there are 10 million Americans who are blind or visually impaired, so there’s a significant opportunity to meet the needs of this group. “From an operational standpoint, the app is cost-effective. There’s also no physical installation, which is a requirement of beacon-based systems,” he said.

Boni Global expects to make improvements to the Loud Steps app based on feedback provided by the team at DoubleTree; the company is currently in talks with other hotel owners and operators outside of Waterton and Hilton.