Fun in the air: Keeping the visually-impaired entertained, Virgin Atlantic way

Ashwini Phadnis | Updated on March 10, 2018

Paul Smith of Guide Dogs for the Blind, and guide dog Pedro try out new in-flight technology, developed specifically for visually impaired customers on board Virgin Atlantic services Matt Alexander/PA Wire   -  Matt Alexander

Technology is not merely an aid, but can improve the quality of life. And in an illustration of just that, UK-based airline Virgin Atlantic has teamed up with Scotland-based Bluebox Aviation Systems, which provides airlines around with tablet-based and wireless in-flight entertainment system, to come up with a fully accessible in-flight entertainment system for customers with sight loss.

After a year of listening to about 1,700 visually impaired Virgin Atlantic customers and working with `Guide Dogs for the Blind' to assist with the development of a kit considering the different impairments, including blindness, partial vision and sensitivity to brightness, the airline rolled out special iPads for the visually impaired on all its flights starting December 1.

The technology is available on Virgin’s flights across North America, the Caribbean, Africa, China, India and the Middle East. The airline also has familiarisation days for its visually impaired flyers, which include aircraft visits, allowing visitors to get used to the on-board systems before they begin their trip. It also allows familiarisation courses for guide dogs, so that they get used to the aircraft environment.

The aviation industry has been stepping up for special needs people. Airports in the US have special programmes for autistic, even as the Miami International Airport has designed a programme for all special needs travellers.

Explaining the initiative with Virgin Atlantic, Catherine Brown, Head of Marketing at Bluebox Aviation Systems, said, in an emailed response, that someone who is unable to see the screen can enjoy listening to the video and audio content. And where a studio has provided an audio-described track for a film or TV programme, the action is described so the passenger will know what’s happening.

“In terms of design, the key was to develop a platform that is easy to navigate with buttons and menus that are read aloud when tapped; a simple design on the screen that accommodates someone navigating with finger taps and swipes, with large buttons and not too many items to select from at one time; and a consistent design that becomes familiar as they use it, such as menu items consistently on the left side of the screen with an even spacing so the passengers can move their hand down the side tapping each item to hear what it is before deciding to select it,” Brown said.

Though the success of the venture is yet to be determined, John Welsman, Policy Business Partner for Travel and Transport for the charity Guide Dogs, says: “As someone with sight loss who flies quite often, I think it’ll be wonderful to access entertainment and information on Virgin planes without needing to ask for help. Not having to call for cabin crew, or disturb fellow passengers who might be sleeping will be great.”

Published on December 08, 2017

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