On Friday, March 11, the American Foundation for the Blind will recognize and award Walt Disney Parks and Resorts for its innovative Assistive Technology Device which debuted in summer 2010 at its annual ceremony in Seattle. Along with Disney, CBS Television, Lexmark International and Accessible Twitter will also be recognized by the non-profit group.
“Too often, swift advances in technology bring the rewards of convenience and entertainment to an eager world while inadvertently leaving those who are visually impaired behind,” says AFB president and CEO, Carl R. Augusto. “Each of this year’s Access Award winners displayed a real commitment to making sure their products and services are equally accessible to everyone. And with the growing number of people with vision loss, focusing on accessibility is not only the right thing to do, it’s also a savvy business decision.”
The wireless-enabled device, which weighs just 7.2 oz, features audio descriptions of more than 50 attractions in the parks plus other necessary information such as the location of the nearest restrooms. It also provides several features for those that are deaf or hearing-impaired. The device is free to use for guests, although it does require a refundable security deposit.
Beginning June 27, guests with visual disabilities will be able to explore Walt Disney World theme parks in a whole new way through an enhanced Disney-designed device that provides detailed audio description of outdoor areas and fits in the palm of a guest’s hand.
“Disney Parks have long been at the forefront of providing accessibility for guests with disabilities,” said Greg Hale, chief safety officer and vice president of Worldwide Safety and Accessibility for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts. “We are pleased to build on this legacy with new technology that enables us to do something that has never been done before – provide rich audio description in moving rides and outdoor environments.”
Via an interactive audio menu, the newly enhanced Assistive Technology Device lets guests choose the type of information they would like to receive about outdoor areas, from architectural elements to the location of the nearest restroom. The 7.2-ounce device, which utilizes wireless technology to pinpoint its location and take pre-programmed actions, also offers guests at Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort:
- Detailed audio description of key visual elements, including action and scenery, for more than 50 attractions
- Amplified audio for most theater-type attractions for guests with mild to moderate hearing loss
- Handheld captioning that enables guests to read captions while enjoying specific rides
- Activation of closed captioning in pre-show areas where television displays narrate the upcoming experience.
“I know of no other public space in this country – or anywhere else for that matter – that is as welcoming and accessible to people with disabilities as Disney’s theme parks,” said Larry Goldberg, director of media access at WGBH Boston, which is considered a pioneer in developing multimedia and new technologies that make media accessible for the disabled. “With their captioning systems for guests who are deaf or hard-of-hearing and now outdoor environmental description for guests who are blind or visually impaired, Walt Disney World is now more inclusive than ever. WGBH is proud of our role in helping make this happen.”
WGBH teamed up with Disney to deliver outdoor audio description, marking the latest collaboration between the two organizations, which began with the installation of WGBH’s Rear Window® Captioning system in Disney’s theater-based attractions in1996.
Disney has patented and licensed the assistive technology, which could serve a wide variety of retail, commercial and industrial applications. The technology is already being used at the World of Coca Cola Museum, The Hall at Patriot Place and the Dallas Cowboys Stadium and will receive the National Society of Professional Engineers 2010 “New Product Award” next month.
“We are particularly excited to make this technology available beyond Disney Parks and extend accessibility where it was previously impractical,” added Hale. Softeq Development Corporation is licensed to make the technology available beyond Disney Parks.
The Handheld Assistive Device is offered at no cost with a refundable deposit at Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort theme parks. Audio description of outdoor areas will be available at Disneyland Resort next year. For further information about services for guests with disabilities, guests should visit the Walt Disney World Web site at disneyworld.com or contact Walt Disney World Information at 407-824-4321 (voice) or 407-827-5141 (TTY).