Disney’s Innovative Technology for Visually Impaired Guests Earns National Award

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Walt Disney Parks and Resorts first-of-its-kind technology developed for visitors with disabilities has received another national accolade. The Assistive Handheld Technology Device for visually and hearing impaired guests earned the American Foundation for the Blind’s prestigious Access Award.

The nonprofit organization’s Access Award honors companies that foster equality by designing their services for all people. The foundation credited Disney’s Assistive Handheld Technology Device with creating “unprecedented freedom” for guests with disabilities.

“Too often, swift advances in technology bring the rewards of convenience and entertainment to an eager world while inadvertently leaving those who are visually impaired behind,” said Carl R. Augusto, AFB president and CEO. “Each of this year’s Access Award winners displayed a real commitment to making sure their products and services are equally accessible to everyone. And with the growing number of people with vision loss, focusing on accessibility is not only the right thing to do, it’s also a savvy business decision.”

Initially debuted by Disney engineers in 2001, the Assistive Handheld Technology Device recently added ground-breaking, Disney-patented* technology that expands guests’ accessibility through audio and visual descriptions at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. The 7.2-ounce device displays vivid audio narratives and descriptions of popular rides, attractions, and scenery. Utilizing wireless technology, an interactive menu allows users to access diverse information including architectural elements or the location of the closest restroom, and takes pre-programmed actions to fully immerse guests in the Disney experience.

“Working with our own team of experts and industry leaders, we continuously researched and tested new ways to achieve rich visual and audio descriptions for moving rides and outdoor scenery,” said Greg Hale, chief safety officer and vice president of Worldwide Safety and Accessibility for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts. “The unprecedented technology we introduced last year exemplifies Disney’s long legacy of commitment to innovation and heightens accessibility for guests with disabilities.”

The ingenuity behind the Assistive Handheld Technology Device has been well-received by guests with visual impairments such as Robyn Walker. “I commend Disney for doing this, I travel extensively and I spend a lot of time looking for things like restaurants and restrooms. This device helped me find things quickly, I am very impressed,” she said.

The Access Award is the most recent honor bestowed the Assistive Handheld Technology Device. Last year, the technology earned the National Society of Professional Engineers 2010 “New Product Award.”

“We appreciate the recognition received for Disney’s Assistive Handheld Technology Device, but our greatest reward is continually improving the quality of the Disney experience for guests with special needs,” said Hale. “Guests’ and industry groups’ encouraging response to the device inspires us to spread our technology so it can be emulated beyond our parks.”

Through patents and licensing, Disney’s technology has helped expand accessibility for a wide variety of retail, commercial and industrial applications. Locations already employing the technology include the World of Coca Cola Museum, The Hall at Patriot Place and Dallas Cowboys Stadium.

*U.S. Patents 6,785,539 and 7,224,967 may apply

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