More accessible commerce for the visually impaired

More than a hundred and fifty shops in C/ Creu Coberta have already installed the device which identifies them to users of ‘Barcelona sense barreres’. This free mobile app allows visually impaired users to hear up-to-date information and ads from those same shops when they go past them.

The information and commercial promotions load via a virtual platform and beacons are installed inside the shops. These small low-cost autonomous devices are easy to maintain and continuously emit Bluetooth signals identifying them. That means when somebody using the app goes past the shop they get an alert which can open up an audio description. The system opens up local commerce to the visually impaired, offering them product information, news and suggestions from retailers. Initially, it shows them exactly where the entrance to the shop is. Pere Antoni Mir uses the app and highlights the independence it means for him to know which shop he is in and what products are on offer, without having to ask anyone else.

The app is free and anyone can download it, meaning those with no visual impairment can also use it to access each establishment’s website and see what is on offer. The owner of Cistelleria Siscart, one of the participating shops, explains she is “very satisfied to be accessible for some people who previously had difficulty discovering the shop”.

A district committed to accessibility

The Sants-Montjuïc District Office, the Barcelona Open Beacon Network and the Creu Coberta Retailers’ Association have combined to create this system of virtual shop windows with a budget of 18,000 euros. The development of the app prototype, by the Open Beacon Network, conceived at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), received an initial grant from the Institute of Culture. The district approved a government measure to launch the system. By the end of September the 250 shops in C/ Sants and C/ Creu Coberta are expected to be on the app, which addresses the communicative accessibility of local commerce for the first time, in this case, in Sants and Hostafrancs.

The Sants-Montjuïc District Office, along with shopping hubs and the Accessibility Chair at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC), has been working to improve accessibility for various collectives for some years. The ‘Sants sense barreres’ and ‘La Marina sense barreres’ projects have managed to break down the architectural barriers in many commercial establishments in the districts, offering grants for those wanting to improve accessibility conditions.