In my other life I am the president of a Mac Users Group, CapMac, in Austin, TX. We are an active (175+ members) and involved group of people who use Apple products. One of our purposes is to serve our community. We have worked with the local school district to train teachers, provided computers to needs students, and sponsored opportunities for low income students to learn to film in just the last few years. However, our biggest and most meaningful activity yet is in progress now. We call it Here For You.
Consider that you are blind and need to get around – from point A to point B. You are current with all the new technology and have a GPS system that allows you to be more independent. If you are a member of CapMac you can use your GPS system to get you to a meeting, via the local bus system.
But guess what, the GPS system (all GPS systems) use street addresses. CapMac meets in a building that is part of a strip mall. All 21 buildings in that mall have the same street address. Your GPS system will lead you to the first building in the mall which is a parking lot away from where you need to be. Those of us who are not visually impaired can just look around, find the sign, and head to the building. Those of us who are visually impaired immediately stop being an independent adult and turn into someone who has to ask for help.
The solution to this is for the GPS systems to use latitude and longitude to guide people to the right place. They don’t.
It has taken us six months of research and experimenting to find a solution. We would still be looking were it not for a developer in Greece who has an app that works on an iPhone. Apostolos Samaras created myLocation. It is a marvelous app that lets you use longitude and latitude. Other apps do that to some extent, but with myLocation, you stop at the exact place you want to mark, such as the front door of a building, tell the app to create a tag, and once the tag is set, the app lets you send a v-card to anyone you wish. The v-card contains a specific URL and when the user taps it, they are sent to either Apple Maps, or Google Maps, where they can follow precise, verbal directions. The v-cards will also contain additional information like the street address, phone number, hours of operation, etc. Reminder though that this app only works on iPhones. Android phones do not have the necessary technology to make it work.
We asked our members to start tagging important places in Austin, such as the libraries, doctor’s offices, major bus stops, etc. After one week we had over 300 tags and we are just getting started.
The second part of our project is to create a database, a comprehensive collection of bookmarks as it were, that we can store on our users group website. Once the database is up and running (this coming week) anyone who is interested can access what they need. It won’t be necessary for someone to use all the memory on their phone storing v-cards because they can just access them when needed.
We will share our project information, including how to make it work, with other groups at no charge. We will even train, but training only takes about ½ an hour and can be done via Skype. Groups who want to participate will need to have access to their own network. The one thing we can’t do is be the depository of information for the whole world.
Want to know how we came up with this? One of our board members offered to give one of our blind members a ride home one night after a meeting. Turns out the street address wasn’t much help. There were several buildings of apartments and no numbers on any of them. Obviously our blind member couldn’t tell the driver which was his building. An hour and a half later it was obvious that there had to be a better way.
You can read an article in The MacObserver about this effort here.