• Alison Whiting

Accessible Way of Saint James, Catalonia

One of the ways that we can improve access to Canada’s National Parks is to look for examples in other countries to see what tools and methods were implemented and what favorable outcomes there were.

Our research team recently learned of the accessibility work being done at the Way of Saint James pilgrimage footpaths in Catalonia. Also known as the Camino de Santiago, it is comprised of a series of pilgrims’ ways, or footpaths, leading to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain. Over the last decade, the Spanish government, disability organizations, and advocacy groups have been improving how people with disabilities can access and participate in this religious pilgrimage.

The accessibility work began a decade ago by locating routes that were already wheelchair accessible or could be modified or adapted for wheelchair use. By connecting these specific routes and creating new paths as needed, officials were able to ensure that wheelchair users and people with mobility impairments can participate and complete the entire length of the Way of Saint James.

More recent changes to the Way of Saint James included sensor guidance improvements to the footpaths so that people with visual impairments can experience an augmented acoustic reality, which allows them to walk through areas independently and safely. The goal with these changes was not to directly tackle architectural barriers, but to instead offer tools, guidance and opportunities to overcome these barriers.

Officials installed Beepcons technology along the accessible route, which when paired with the Beepcons app, provides users with key navigational information such as entrances to municipalities, cross-roads or intersections. Beepcons are small transmitters that use Bluetooth technology to send out a signal that can be received by a smartphone when paired with the Beepcons mobile app. In a national park setting these Beepcons could be placed at parking lots, pit toilets, and trailheads to transmit important information about trail conditions, wildlife risks, and route finding.

This is an image of 4 Beepcon transmitters. From the left to right, we have a dark blue, sky blue, beige, and green Beepcon transmitters placed in a semi circle.
Examples of some Beepcon transmitters

Additionally, officials used the Vumark codes system to help users access important information about their surroundings, such as water fountains, bus stops, rest areas, accommodations, shops, restaurants, etc. along the accessible route of the Way of Saint James. VuMarks are the latest generation of barcode technology. VuMarks can be used to encode a wide range of unique IDs or data into a single image or icon, that can then be placed in strategic locations depending on the needs of the business or organization. In the case of national park settings, VuMarks could be used to provide park goers with information about local activities, equipment rental, historical information, or points of interest. VuMarks could be placed throughout the national park at important points of interest or activity starting points.

This is an example of a VuMark barcode.
Example of a VuMark barcode

The Way of Saint James was recently featured in the United National World Tourism Organization's (UNWTO) paper Accessible and Inclusive Development in Nature Areas Compendium of Best Practices, which highlighted these changes that improved access to the trails for people with visual impairments. The paper touches on the replicability of this project, noting that this technology could be used to make any rural environment more accessible so long as the content is available for users to access.

In Canada, the CNIB has explored the use of beacons in commercial settings. The extension to outdoor parks is another natural extension too.

Have you used Beepcons or VuMarks before? If so, let us know in the comments!

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