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Enabling Adventure for the Blind at Heartland Forest in Niagara Falls

At BlindSquare, our mission is to create innovative and accessible technology that enables people of all abilities to navigate the world easily and confidently. That’s why we were thrilled to partner with Heartland Forest, a sanctuary dedicated to promoting accessibility and active living, to bring a new level of freedom to visually impaired hikers.

Meet Joe Green, a 33-year-old Fort Erie resident who has been legally blind since birth. Despite his visual impairment, Joe has never shied away from adventure. He attended W. Ross Macdonald School for the visually impaired in Brantford, where he lived life to the fullest. He experienced rock climbing, horseback riding, snow skiing, soccer, and golf. Joe’s fearless spirit was tested when he participated in a soapbox derby race, but even a high-speed wipeout couldn’t stop him from living life to the fullest.

Joe had always dreamed of exploring the trails of Heartland Forest in Niagara Falls, where he has a special connection. He sang “O Canada” at the opening of Heartland’s nature center and regularly plays mini-putt there. But until now, the trails have remained out of reach for Joe due to his blindness.

That’s where BlindSquare comes in. With the help of a $20,000 grant from the David S. Howe Fund at the Niagara Community Foundation, BlindSquare, and Heartland Forest partnered with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) to develop a trail navigation system using our BlindSquare Event app. This app uses self-voicing GPS technology to provide safe and accessible navigation for visually impaired hikers and allows Joe to walk the trails without a guide dog or support person. BlindSquare Event will describe points of interest and provide the distance and direction of landmarks such as benches, trail directions, and trash can locations.

As Joe prepared to step onto the trail, he shared his excitement, “I can’t see where I’m going, but it would be wonderful to walk the trails. It would be nice to walk the trails and listen to the sounds of nature.” With the help of the BlindSquare Event app, Joe finally got his wish. He listened keenly to the sounds of different birds and even greeted a blue jay along the way.

Heartland Forest Executive Director Elisabeth Graham described seeing Joe able to walk the trail and listen to nature as a “beautiful” thing. “We are grateful that with the support of the Niagara Community Foundation, we are able to create more opportunities for outdoor explanation for all ages and all abilities,” she said.

CNIB spokesperson Mary Ann Bent echoed this sentiment, saying that trails should be accessible to everyone, not just the sighted. “Trails are such an important part of our health,” she said.

For Heartland Forest founder Dan Bouwman, seeing Joe walk the trails for the first time was a profound moment. “You cannot imagine how I feel. I feel like a million-dollar man. It makes such a difference in people’s lives,” he said. “You do what’s right, and everything comes together.”

At BlindSquare, we couldn’t be more proud to be a part of this amazing collaboration that is making a real difference in people’s lives. Our partnership with Heartland Forest and CNIB is a testament to our commitment to creating accessible and empowering technology for everyone.

To read the original article on this wonderful story, visit Niagara Falls Review here.