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Emerging Technologies that Aid in Smart Building Accessibility

July 8, 2024
Explore the tools that can help facilitate greater inclusivity and deliver social, economic and practical benefits for all.

Building accessibility for individuals with disabilities has come a long way in recent years. However, technology can take accessibility to a whole new level that helps facilitate inclusivity. As existing accessibility fixtures begin to age—or new buildings are planned that require accessibility options, there are a number of emerging technologies that should be considered. Let’s look at the building accessibility market and what tools and technologies help to deliver social, economic and practical benefits for all.

Augmented Reality (AR)

Augmented Reality (AR) is an emerging technology that overlays digital information onto the real world in real-time. AR has great potential for assisting users with disabilities within commercial buildings and campuses by offering context-sensitive information and guidance, such as navigation assistance with interactive maps, information about a building’s accessibility features, emergency assistance and even accessibility audits.

A great example of this is Wayfindr, an open standard technology for audio-based navigation. Mobile apps that use Wayfindr can assist visually impaired individuals, delivering turn-by-turn directions while continuously being tracked using the mobile device’s built-in location service.

Autonomous Wheelchairs

Designed to provide increased mobility and independence for individuals with disabilities, autonomous wheelchairs use a series of technologies to help handicapped individuals navigate large and complex indoor locations such as commercial buildings, airports and shopping malls. Requiring no human intervention, autonomous wheelchairs use sensors to precisely detect their location and allow individuals to easily input where they wish to go.  Additional technologies such as LiDAR, ultrasonic, infrared and HD cameras are used to navigate complex pathways while avoiding fixed and mobile obstacles such as barriers and foot traffic.

[Related: How Elevator Modernization Ensures Accessibility and Compliance]

Interactive Digital Signage

Buildings can be outfitted with touchscreen displays that provide useful property information. Accessibility options can be used to assist a range of disabilities, including the ability to interact with the signage stations using voice recognition and dynamic Braille. For non-native speakers or those with reading difficulties, AR can translate signs and instructions into multiple languages or read them aloud. It can also overlay visual cues or provide audio instructions to help individuals with visual or hearing impairments understand and follow signage.

Smart Wearables

Occupants with disabilities can request the use of wearable devices within a smart property to bring about a more personalized assistance experience. These devices can be configured to offer navigation assistance with Haptic and/or tactile feedback. This is a great option for those with visual or hearing challenges—or in areas where noise is a problem.

Telepresence Robots

Mobile robots with voice and video capabilities can be deployed in strategic smart building locations to offer a host of services to those with mobility impairments. This includes the ability to contact building employees for remote assistance, provide navigation guidance or make requests without having to travel long distances.

Accessibility, Safety and Functional for All

Regardless of local regulations, building owners and operators owe it to their occupants to do everything possible to leverage cutting-edge technologies that meet the diverse needs of everyone. For those with disabilities, implementing these types of solutions delivers:

  • Improved inclusivity
  • Social responsibility
  • Market differentiation
  • Future-proofing
  • Operational efficiencies

Ultimately, an investment in smart assistance building technologies delivers market differentiation for properties, increasing their value and improving the experience of disabled occupants. In many cases, the long-term benefits of such solutions far outweigh the investment.

About the Author

Andrew Froehlich | Contributor

As a highly regarded network architect and trusted IT consultant with worldwide contacts, Andrew Froehlich counts over two decades of experience and possesses multiple industry certifications in the field of enterprise networking. Andrew is the founder and president of Colorado-based West Gate Networks, which specializes in enterprise network architectures and data center build-outs. He’s also the founder of an enterprise IT research and analysis firm, InfraMomentum. As the author of two Cisco certification study guides published by Sybex, he is a regular contributor to multiple enterprise IT-related websites and trade journals with insights into rapidly changing developments in the IT industry.

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