Like any community’s infrastructure, the roads and grounds of a college campus are constantly inspected, groomed, and overhauled.
Most of the University of Iowa’s 54,000 students and faculty have no problem rerouting around construction and maintenance projects scattered across 23 miles of roads, 34 miles of sidewalks and bike paths, and120 buildings.They can see barriers and read signs all across the 1,900-acre campus in Iowa City.
Recently, the Facilities Management Department found a technological solution to make the campus more accessible to those who can’t: a unique collaboration with Finnish mobile app developer MIPSoft. Released in 2012, BlindSquare combines GPS location information, speech synthesis, and information from open data sources.
Brian Manternach has been leading such initiatives since becoming facilities accessibility coordinator in 2011. Other projects the department has tackled include writing and implementing the Measuring Accessibility Points Plan & Standards (MAPPS), a scoping and assessment model that includes an extensive standards checklist and a rating system similar to the LEED program.
In 2014, Manternach and his team, along with Samuel Negron, a graduate student who is blind, worked with the developer to tweak the app specifically for the university’s purposes.
BlindSquare is based on information from FourSquare and Open Street Map. The partnership with MIPSoft allows a university representative to add enhanced local information such as campus construction or new art installations. That person enters information on the physical environment into a database shared directly with the developer. The representative gives details, including the location’s latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates, which become both readable and audible.
“This project has helped transform the university into one that truly prides itself on diversity and provides universal accessibility to all students, staff, faculty, and visitors,” explains Manternach.