News / Toronto

New program wants to make Yonge and St. Clair the GTA's most accessible neighbourhood

The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) is putting small battery powered beacons in 200 restaurants and shops.

Shane Laurnitus has found beacons at CNIB very helpful.

Eduardo Lima/Metro News / Metro News

Shane Laurnitus has found beacons at CNIB very helpful.

The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) is trying to make one of Toronto's busiest areas the most accessible neighbourhood in the GTA, with a new program aimed at helping visually impaired people find their way around.

The organization, which supports people who are blind or living with vision loss, is rolling out a program that will see small battery powered devices called beacons placed in 200 restaurants and shops at Yonge and St. Clair.

The beacons will transmit to an app called BlindSquare, to verbally guide people around indoor buildings.

Angela Bonfanti, CNIB GTA Executive Director, said the "internal wayfinding technology" goes beyond just the ramps and elevators many people think of when they hear the word accessibility.

"I think what we're trying to push here is from accessibility to inclusivity," she added.

"People who are blind coming in have money to spend."

The program is funded through a grant from the the Rick Hansen Foundation.

Shane Laurnitus, who has been legally blind since the 1990s, said he's benefited from beacons already inside the CNIB's neighbourhood community hub. He looks forward to seeing them at places like the local Tim Hortons, where it can be hard to find the service counter without sight.

"It's basically telling somebody who can't see where things are in relation to where they're standing," he said, adding he'd love to see similar beacons installed at TTC stops and Toronto City Hall.

"This gives people more independence," he said.

"It takes away the onus of needing to ask people all the time where something is."

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