The recently finished San Francisco City Hall Renovation Project includes the innovative implementation of a user-friendly infra-red wireless communications system to allow blind and vision impaired persons to easily orient themselves inside the large City Hall building. The audible guidance installation has been designed by Talking Signs Inc. while the technology has been pioneered at Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute, situated at the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center in San Francisco.
The domestic interior of the historic City Hall no longer holds any secrets to the blind visitor. The exact location of entrances, offices, public facilities and exits can be traced without any difficulty by means of a hand-held receiver to scan the environment. The Talking Signs system assists the user in finding his way via the practical identification of landmarks through voice messages whenever an individual signal is encountered.
In this way, the vision impaired visitor is able to enter the lobby and point the receiver directly ahead to be conducted to the information desk by the audible signal. When pointing to the right, the user detects "public telephones", whereas "stairs to the second floor" is heard when pointing to the left. Blind people thus are offered the opportunity to discover the building and have themselves surprised by what they hear in a similar way as other people are pleased by what they see.
Each spoken message is unique. The designers have selected short, simple and straight forward information as to avoid confusion or ambiguity. The data is repeated whenever the receiver is pointed at one of the 250 Talking Signs, in order to continuously identify key features in the environment. The technology has been installed according to the aesthetic requirements of the historical design scheme of the Beaux Arts building. At the same time, the functional incorporation into the City Hall constitutes a perfect match to the modern governmental activities, which take place at this location.
The Talking Signs system not only will be used to offer easy access to vision and print impaired citizens who visit the City Hall but also in other public facilities, spread over San Francisco. The city project also includes plans to provide audible way-finding assistance on the Muni railway system, at the ferry landing, in the Main Public Library, on street crossings at intersections, in public lavatories and at many other locations throughout the city.