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New Disney device helps blind better experience its parks

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Guests with visual disabilities are now able to explore Disney theme parks in a whole new way through an enhanced Disney-designed device that provides detailed audio description of outdoor areas and attractions.

“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 and Disneyland:

• 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 in 1996.

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 Disney World and Disneyland theme parks. Audio description of outdoor areas will be available at Disneyland next year.

Device helps blind guests better enjoy Disney World and Disneyland

Other examples of Disney Parks’ services for guests with disabilities include:

Accessible Experiences – From vehicles at Toy Story Midway Mania! that enable guests to remain in their wheelchair during the ride to American Sign Language interpretation at live shows, the focus is on providing accessible experiences.

Recreation Devices – Specially designed vehicles, such as an adaptive golf cart and sand and aquatic wheelchairs, enable guests to experience leisure activities throughout the resort.

Guide maps for Guests with Disabilities – Theme park-specific maps provide an overview of services and facilities available for guests with disabilities. Braille guidebooks are also available to assist guests during their visit.

Resort Access – Resort hotels at Walt Disney World Resort offer special equipment and facilities for guests with disabilities such as phone text, visual indicator door knocks and sloped-entry pools.

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