This month, UK-based startup Travel Hands, a spin-off from digital accessibility company VIP World Services, plans to launch an app designed to help visually impaired people navigate the busy streets of the London metropolitan area.
Back in 2013, Travel Hands founder and CEO Ishan Jha was diagnosed with Keratoconus, a condition affecting the cornea of the eye. This led him to a deeper understanding of the need for a service that can help visually impaired people gain a sense of independence. This need was only made more urgent by the Covid-19 pandemic, which, according to the Royal National Institute of Blind People, has made two-thirds of the two million people with sight loss in the UK feel less independent.
There are many people with severe sight loss who only use a white cane to navigate, however, this isn’t always sufficient. Often, visually impaired individuals must rely on taxis to travel walkable distances, especially in busy or unfamiliar areas, which is neither cost-effective nor environmentally friendly.
The Travel Hands app, an app modeled after Uber, solves this problem by connecting the visually impaired with a volunteer guide in proximity. Once the app’s geolocation services pair the user with a guide, they can arrange to meet.
Every volunteer goes through a mandatory training module provided by the company to learn the best practices for providing guided assistance and is screened through the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) for a criminal record background check.
For extra assurance, all the routes are centrally monitored, and the distance covered is tracked. Volunteers receive reward points in relation to the distance they walk and the time they spend walking as well, which Travel Hands intends to make redeemable at major retailers like Amazon, McDonald’s, and Pret A Manger.
The fee for three hours of guided travel is only three pounds, or alternatively, users can opt to pay a £15 monthly subscription fee and receive unlimited journeys.