CANE ENABLED | Audio Interview
Bold Blind Beauty loves sharing tools and technology that make life easier for those living with sight loss. In today’s episode of Beyond Sight Magazine’s Cane EnAbled, you’ll meet Jessica Hipp, Chief Operating Officer at WayAround. Nasreen Bhutta recently interviewed Jessica to learn how this revolutionary technology makes the world more welcoming for people with sight loss.
WayAround Information At Your Fingertips Transcript:
Welcome to Bold Blind Beauty, the home of Beyond Sight Magazine and our November 2020 month’s [Cane EnAbled 00:00:09] segment. I am your host, Nasreen.
In addition to celebrating all things related to the white cane, including safety and usage, personalization, this monthly series also shares broad perspectives from those in the field, including parents of blind and visually-impaired children, advocates, and exciting news on the technology front. Technology is our focus this month. Our featured guest is the lovely Miss Jessica Hipp. She is the chief operating officer at WayAround, and you can reach WayAround at http://www.wayaround.com. WayAround is the smart assistant that makes the world welcoming for people with vision loss. Welcome, Jessica.
Thank you so much for having me.
Thank you for being here. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, Jessica?
Sure. I have been with WayAround since we started. I was the first employee back in 2016, and I like to say I keep all the plates spinning. My background is in marketing and public relations, and I’ve worked with a bunch of different companies, big Fortune 500 companies, some colleges and universities, and I really love technology, and I love education. WayAround has been a wonderful place to work with, both in terms of the technology, the development, and especially all of our users.
What was the inspiration behind WayAround, Jessica?
That’s a really good question. Our co-founders, Darwin Belt and Arman Fisher, are architects by training. They had worked together in their early 20s and then went separate ways. After they retired, they got back together and they both had vision loss.
Arman lost about 95% of his vision in his mid-50s, and Darwin has had low vision for most of his adult life. They started talking about their life experiences and they said, “We’re architects. We know how to communicate lots of details about buildings, and people with vision loss need more details about public spaces. We know that from our personal experience.”
That’s how WayAround was born, and it started just conversations over lunch. Then eventually they said, “We think we have something here.” It’s been through a lot of different developments, but because they’re both in their late 60s, a lot of what they wanted to do is keep it really simple for people that may have had vision loss later in life, but also make it work for a wide variety of people, whether you’re just losing your vision.
You might have low vision, or you might have no usable vision at all. So it was really a challenge that they set out for themselves to meet a bunch of different needs for a lot of different types of people.
They had some really great vision there. Let’s explore the WayAround system a little bit more. Can you explain the tag and dash system.
Yeah. The Tag and Scan system, there are two parts to it. The first is our mobile app, which is available for both iPhone and Android. It’s a free app called WayAround Tag and Scan. The app works with our smart WayTags. Those right now are items that you would attach to things in your home and office.
I should back up. We are still working on communicating details about public spaces, and we can talk more about that in a little bit. But right now our product is for use for individuals in their home and office. It’s a really great product.
Those smart tags that I mentioned, we call them WayTags, they come as stickers, magnets, buttons, and clips. They all work exactly the same way, that you would attach a button to a different type of item than you would use a magnet on. So there’s a lot of flexibility in the types of things that you can label, and then you use your smartphone to add information.
One of the great things about our product is it doesn’t depend on the camera. It uses near-field communication, or NFC, which is a wireless technology. So all you have to do is touch your phone to that tag to read the information or to put information on the tag. So you can put a little bit of information, if you just want to know blue shirt, or you can put a whole lot of information, even up to a couple of pages in Word.
Is there any surface that the tags and the technology will not work on?
So far, we haven’t found any. We do get people who will write us and say, “I want to try to label this or that, and I just can’t figure out what to do.” Sometimes it takes us a little bit of creativity. But so far, we have been able to do everything from labeling tomato plants outdoors. We have an automotive mechanic who has vision loss, and he’s labeled a bunch of his specialty tools with WayAround. Prescriptions, makeup, clothing, things in the freezer, there’s all sorts of things that you can use WayAround for that traditional labeling systems might not have a flexible enough solution to work on them.
When you’re talking about putting things into the freezer, do the tags freeze up once you pull them out? Do we have to thaw them out for them to be readable and usable? How does that work?
You don’t have to thaw them out. What we usually recommend for the freezer is our buttons, especially the oval hole button. You wouldn’t necessarily think of putting a button in the freezer, but the button, it has a notch cut out. So on clothing, you can use a safety pin to attach it to the clothing, but you can also thread a rubber band or an elastic, or what we really recommend is a silicone band. You can just loop it through that oval hole and then wrap it around your frozen vegetables.
The great thing about the buttons is they are completely waterproof. So, again, if you’re using them for your clothing, they can easily go through the washer, the dryer. The buttons are heatproof up to about 250 degrees Fahrenheit, and they’re cold-proof down to negative 40 degrees, which is the same in Fahrenheit and Celsius. So there are just a great solution for the freezer because they’re waterproof and cold-proof. It’s a hard black plastic, and it’s pretty impenetrable. If you have variance in temperature, the buttons are going to last.
Some people do use other types of tags, stickers, or clips in the freezer, and we’ve never had a problem with any of those; but the buttons are rated for waterproof and for cold-proof, and they’re a great solution for the freezer.
I think that’s really revolutionizing the everyday personal use in the house. Can people bundle up these products as well, stickers and, let’s say, the magnets? Or they just wanted to get some tags, can they bundle them up?
Yes, absolutely. What we often recommend is we have a starter pack, and that gives you 60 tags. It’s a variety of all of our different types of tags. That gives you an opportunity to just try things out. Normally, people will find that three or four types of tags they prefer over other types of tags. Then if you decide you really like that oval hole button, or you like one of the stickers, you can order any of the individual styles of tags in a pack of 25.
You can order as many packs as you want. If you want to order one or two, use those up, then order more, that’s fine. Some people say, “I know I want to do my entire wardrobe,” and they order eight packs of buttons and tag everything, and then they’ll move on to something else.
One other question I was going to ask you is that when you were talking about this technology and it does not use the camera to be able to identify or to mark up your items, how does that technology work?
If you’ve ever used Apple Pay or Android Pay in a store where you just touch your smartphone to a little platform and then it’ll make the payment for you, it’s the exact same technology that way around is using, so NFC, what started out being a payment solution because it is very secure.
If you’re a little bit techie, it uses radio waves, and they’re at a certain frequency. They’ll only connect when your smartphone, which is what activates the tag, gets really close to that tag. So you have to be within about an inch.
We recommend just go ahead and touch your phone to the tag. Your scan is going to be faster and more accurate if you just touch the tag rather than hover your smartphone. It is. It’s touching on the iPhone. It’s the top skinny edge of the phone. That’s the area that you would want to touch directly to the tag, and it’s almost an instantaneous transfer of information.
You would have to program that in eventually. Is that audible? How does that part work?
WayAround works with whatever accessibility settings you have on your smartphone. So if you’re a VoiceOver or a Talkback user, yes, you’ll hear everything audibly at the speed you want to hear it. If you use an inverted color scheme or large font, that’s how WayAround will be displayed.
We also have a number of users who will use a refreshable braille display, and this works great for people who are deaf-blind because it’s a labeling system that they can use with their refreshable braille display and get a lot of information that was previously inaccessible to them.
Thank you for sharing that. That is a really big help to our listeners and really allows them to really understand how the system works for their needs.
Finally, how is the WayAround system progressing in public spaces?
Really good question. Going back to where we initially started, we’re continuing to work with a number of beta sites. We have some colleges and universities, schools for the blind, some museums and art galleries, and a few micro-markets that we’re working on installing WayAround.
Right now, it is still in beta. We’re working on refining that both from the end user experience, as well as from the experience of the business. How do they get the information in there? How do they optimize it?
One of the other things that we’re working on is adding in a language component. Again, working with the settings on a user’s smartphone, if you had your phone set to Spanish or French and you scanned a WayTag, you could get that information in your preferred language, even if it was entered in English by the business. There’s some additional features that we’re working on, and we’re continuing to refine that. We’ll keep working with those beta sites over a lot of 2021; and hopefully about this time next year, we’ll be able to roll out that product in a bigger way.
Oh, I love that. Are there any museums right now that are using your technology?
I can’t say any of the names right now. Last year, we worked with an art gallery in Baltimore. The NFB (National Federation of the Blind) was sponsoring an exhibit called Ways of Seeing, and it was blind and sighted artists that were doing works together. It was a very interactive exhibit.
That was one of the first places that we had installed WayAround so that the blind visitors and blind artists could get a lot of information, including an artist statement, information about the different mediums that sculptures and some of the works were created with. It was a really great experience. People were very pleased with it. A lot of people have said, “Where else are you going? We want this everywhere.” So we are actively working on getting that into some museums. If you want more information, definitely sign up for our updates on our website.
I love it. I love it, Jessica.
Thank you so much.
How can we reach you, Jessica?
The easiest way, you mentioned our website, wayaround.com. You can also email me, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find us on social media, Facebook, and Twitter. We are @WayAroundTools. We have a YouTube channel that you can get lots of information. We have some how-to videos, and we’ve also done several webinar series that you can feel free to watch those and get information from other experts.
Great resources. Thank you for sharing. To find this feature and many other great articles, do visit the Cane EnAbled page in Beyond Sight at boldblindbeauty.com. Thanks for listening.
- The header is a photo of a cell phone with the WayAround app open and displaying information related to the tagged items of clothing also in the photo.
- The featured image is the Beyond Sight Magazine cover. The same photo mentioned in the first bullet is on the cover. The masthead is teal with “Beyond Sight Magazine” in black text. The dot on the ‘i’ in ‘sight’ is the eye used for our 2020 Year of Vision Campaign (described HERE). The text for this feature says: “Jessica Hipp WayAround Information At Your Fingertips.”
In the bottom right corner is a teal circle with an illustration of Abby Bold Blind Beauty’s fashion icon who is walking with her white cane in one hand and handbag in the other. She is wearing heels and a stylish dress made of panels resembling overlapping banana leaves. The dress panels gently curve from her nipped-in waist to just above the knee. She’s also sporting her signature explosive hairstyle and yellow text Cane EnAbled” is under the circle.
- Gallery of 3 images clockwise top left to right: 1) samples of tags on different items 2) tags on remote controls 3) same photo as the header.
- Cover by Daniel Lubiner
- Interviewer Nasreen Bhutta
- Audio Production by Aaron Linson