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Tampa Mapping Effort Expands City Access for Visually Impaired

In order to help support mobility for constituents who are blind or have low vision, the city of Tampa, Fla. has implemented a new technology solution to improve access to city services and facilities.

The tip of a cane for the blind resting on the ground in front of someone's feet.
To help simplify the process of navigating indoor and outdoor spaces in Tampa, Fla., the city is looking to assistive technology to make local government more accessible.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed civic participation — with more emphasis on remote work and virtual city meetings. For Tampa, this change includes trying to expand civic participation through navigation technology.

The partnership between the city and Lazarillo, the company that created this assistive technology navigation app, started through an effort to improve mobility.

The app provides wayfinding for people who are blind or visually impaired to help them navigate both indoor and outdoor spaces. The company has partnered with other local governments, private partners, schools and hospitals to create a comprehensive tech solution for people who are blind or have low vision to navigate society independently.

But according to René Espinoza, the company’s CEO, Tampa is the first city to integrate public buildings into the platform.

The city has created maps of indoor and outdoor spaces, including the Old City Hall, the Tampa Municipal Office Building and Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park. Users can access these maps free through the Lazarillo app on their smartphone.

The city’s ADA coordinator, Raquel Pancho, said that for people who are blind or have low vision, independence comes from the ability to learn and navigate the paths that they must travel. This solution enables independent participation in city council meetings and other events.

“It’s a fantastic technology,” Pancho said. “And if we are including as much information in it as possible, it can provide a lot of freedom and autonomy for individuals.”

This city prioritized locations that would enable participation in city programming. City council meeting participation was a major priority because it is a central government service; a lot of city events are hosted at Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park.

For those who are blind or have low vision, navigating the layout of a place like the park can be difficult – from finding park amenities like bathrooms to pet waste stations for service animals.

Screenshot from the Lazarillo app depicts the tactile mural located at Julian B. Lane Park for users to find and engage with this art.
“What we’re creating here is a way to provide access to information on the physical investment that the city has made,” Espinoza said, noting attractions like the tactile mural at Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park that might otherwise go missed.

To effectively map city assets, the process between Lazarillo and the city team was collaborative, Espinoza said. It begins with acquiring base floor plans from different buildings and digitizing those to create a visual representation. The mapping team will then create specific routes between offices and other points of interest.

An important factor in making sure these maps work as intended was the use of beta testers, specifically local residents with disabilities, to ensure that the maps function properly for users.

While the focus is on users with vision impairments, Espinoza said the resource can also be valuable for individuals in wheelchairs looking for accessible routes through city spaces.

Through the gathering of data from users and the feedback of local community members and advocacy groups for people with disabilities, the city plans to continue to improve on this solution, Pancho said. The city team is currently exploring grant opportunities to expand the program further.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.