Going Global: Our Favorite Accessibility Initiatives from Around the World

Going Global: Our Favorite Accessibility Initiatives from Around the World

From accessible theatre experiences to cooking classes and donations of used smartphones. There are so many awesome accessibility initiatives for people with visual impairments and other disabilities around the world – so we’ve decided to share a few to spark your imagination.
Image showing icons of the flags from Argentina, Mexico, Cambodia, Denmark, India, Brazil, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, South Korea, Poland, Israel, Spain, and France.
Image showing icons of the flags from Argentina, Mexico, Cambodia, Denmark, India, Brazil, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, South Korea, Poland, Israel, Spain, and France.

Recently, Google announced that it would offer accessibility support globally through Be My Eyes. In celebration, we have put on our global glasses and taken a look of some of the other cool and some lesser known accessibility initiatives that are going on around the world.

Let us know what you think of the list and let us know what cool things your country is doing to enable the livelihood and independence of people who are blind or have low vision.

Canada: Phone It Forward

Smartphones can be life-transforming for people, but unfortunately many people don’t have the resources to invest in a smartphone. CNIB, Canadian National Institute for the Blind, wants to tackle this issue, by allowing people to donate their used smartphones, for them to be passed along to individuals with visual impairments who can benefit greatly from a smartphone. When a phone is donated, CNIB will make sure the phone is wiped and refurbished, as well as packed with useful accessibility apps, before it’s passed along to a person who is blind or low-vision. The donor will get a tax receipt in return for their donation - win-win!

Learn more about Phone It Forward

Blind man listening to VoiceOver from his iPhone. In the bottom left corner is the Phone It Forward logo together with Canada's flag.

Denmark: DR’s Recited Subtitles

Speaking a small language as your native language, ultimately means that you’ll encounter a lot of tv in foreign languages. Denmark is a country that, as many others, doesn’t have a culture for dubbing tv and movies in foreign languages, which means that they rely heavily on subtitles. But what if you’re blind and you can’t read the subtitles? DR, the government supported tv and radio supplier in Denmark, has twin-channels for all their main channels that are specifically designed for people with a vision impairment. When watching tv on these channels, subtitles will automatically be read aloud as they appear, ensuring a smooth tv experience for people who can’t read the subtitles.

Spain: Accessible public transportation in Barcelona

Barcelona’s public transport system is one of the most accessible in the world, and both busses and metro have made significant efforts to be fully accessible to everyone. TMB, the organization in charge of the public transportation system in Barcelona, has cooperated with ONCE, the national blind association in Spain, to make it easier for people with a sight impairment to travel independently via public transportation. Accessibility features for people who are blind or have low vision include voice navigated ticket machines, metro guides in braille, verbalized travel information, special walkways in stations, acoustic signals on ticket barriers, as well as a remote control for visually impaired travelers that you can activate to let you know what bus is arriving at your bus stop and that will notify you when you’re next to a ticket machine. The newest initiative is colorful stickers placed around Barcelona’s public transit system. They can be scanned by a phone from up to 12 metres (39 feet) away, and contains info that help people get info at that specific location.

Learn more about initiatives in Barcelona's transit system

Learn more about the NaviLens Stickers

France: Accès Culture

That France has a rich history of theatrical culture probably doesn’t come as a surprise for most. Accès Culture is an organization that works with more than 80 theatres and opera houses across France to help make the performing arts accessible. Accès Culture offers audio descriptions for visitors who are blind or have low vision, as well as French Sign Language adaptations and adapted surtitling for visitors who are hard of hearing or deaf, making everyone have access to culture.

Learn more about Accès Culture

Poland: Sounds from the Heart

Lions World Song Festival for the Blind “Sounds from the Heart” is a bi-annual song contest for people with a vision impairment taking place in Krákow and has participants from all over the world. It is the hope of Krákow’s Lions Club that Sounds from the Heart will bring attention to talented ameatuer singers who are blind or visually impaired, and that the contest can help kick start their professional career. The 4th Lions World Song Festival for the Blind will take place on 14-16 of November 2019.

Learn more about Songs from the Heart Song Festival

Mexico: Destellos de Sabor

Destellos de Sabor, in English “Sparks of Flavour” is a monthly cooking class for people who are blind or have low vision. In 2009, Gabriel Garza Alanís owned a catering business, and after visiting the organization Destellos de Luz (“Sparks of Light”), he decided to participate by offering cooking lessons for people with sight loss. The courses are free, run by volunteers, and all materials are donated. Gabriel has developed techniques specifically for his blind and low-vision students to best learn their way around the kitchen and optimize their other senses. The Destellos de Sabor cooking classes have made many students able to make a living out of cooking.

Learn more about Destellos de Sabor

Picture from a Destellos de Sabor cooking class. A woman is stirring a pot, while the teacher is explaining something to her. In the bottom left corner is the Destellos de Sabor logo together with the Mexican flag.

Brazil: Fernanda Bianchini Ballet and Arts Association for the Blind

Located in São Paulo, the Fernanda Bianchini Ballet and Arts Association for the Blind offers free classes within classical ballet, contemporary dance, tap dance, ballroom dance, inclusive dance, body expression, theater and visual arts for people with any disability. The school is founded by Fernanda Bianchini who is a ballerina and physiotherapist. When she was only 15 years old, she started developing a pioneering method for teaching ballet to people with a vision impairment, which was the kick off of her professional dance company. The professional ballet dancers of the association has not only captivated people of Brazil, but from all over the world.

Learn more about the Fernanda Bianchini Association

Argentina: Centro Burgales

In 1984, Miyoshi Takei from Japan figured out a way to adopt tennis so that it was possible for people who are blind to play. Eduardo Rafetto from Buenos Aires discovered Takei’s work and took inspiration to form Centro Burgales, a tennis club for people who are blind or low-vision in the Carballito neighbourhood of Buenos Aires. Here, the court is the size of a badminton court and the net is lower than on a typical tennis court. The boundaries of the court are marked with cords that the players can feel with their feet. The players play with rackets that have bigger heads and shorter handles, and the ball is made of foam and filled with metal pellets, so that players can locate the ball from the rattle sound it makes. The ball is also allowed to hit the ground three times before it has to be returned. Centro Burgales offer many blind and visually imapired Argentinians their first opportunity to play sports.

Learn more about Centro Burgales

South Africa: Tape Aids for the Blind

Tape Aids is a non-profit organization providing a free audio library to everyone who have difficulty reading. With the help of more than 500 volunteer narrators and proof-readers, Tape Aid produces both educational and recreational books and magazines in 9 official South African languages. Audio books can both be accessed from physical libraries or downloaded directly from the Tape Aid website.

Learn more about Tape Aids

India: Access for All

Access for All is an initiative started in Mumbai in 2016 by heritage architect and accessibility consultant Siddhant Shah. Shah studied his Master’s degree in Greece, where he got to experience how accessible their museums were - something he brought back home with him to India. He now works on making Indian heritage sites accessible for people with a disability, supported by UNESCO and Archeological Survey of India. Shah’s creations count tactile art experiences at Delhi Art Gallery Modern and the first braille museum guidebook for the City Palace of Jaipur.

Learn more about Access for All

Cambodia: Seeing Hands Massages

Finding employment with a disability in developing countries can be a struggle, and many are often left with no other options than begging on the street. However, the Association for Blind in Cambodia is trying to change this tendency by training people with a vision impairment to be masseuses. On several locations around the country, the Association has also opened up Seeing Hands clinics that solely employ blind and visually impaired masseuses.

Learn more about Seeing Hands massages

New Zealand: Accessibility Tick

The Accessibility Tick Programme helps organizations in New Zealand become more accessible and inclusive employers. Organizations that are members of the Accessibility Tick Programme will receive tools and expertise to successfully employ people with a disability and to deliver their services to all customers. When an organization has established its own programme, it will be awarded with the Accessibility Tick, which recognizes the organization’s ongoing commitment to accessibility and inclusion.

Learn more about Accessibility Tick

South Korea: Accessible Korea

In 2007, Seoyoon Jane Hong, traveler and wheelchair user, founded Accessible Korea, to offer consultancy on accessibility in Korea for national and international travelers with disabilities. After traveling independently through Europe, she realized the value of accessible travel organizations, which were close to non-existent in Korea, and the ones that did exist did not offer support in English and was therefore useless for international travelers. Hong’s experience in Europe has been the foundation of the recent work in Accessible Korea, as well as her book “Europe, There’s No Reason Not to Go”. Accessible Korea provide information about accessible transport, experiences and food in Korea.

Learn more about Accessible Korea

Israel: Extra tech for accessible elections

At the latest Israeli election in April 2019, a trial was carried out to make sure that voters with a vision impairment were able to cast their vote privately and independently. The Israeli startup OrCam produces small cameras with a computer device and speaker that can be attached to a pair of glasses. When the camera is pointed to text, the image will be transformed into words that are read out by the speaker. OrCam was available at 12 polling stations on election day, making it possible for blind and low-vision voters to have the ballot read out to them without getting assistance from another individual, making sure that they could cast their vote independently and privately.

Learn more about OrCam at the Israeli election

Woman using OrCam to read a note in her hand. In the bottom left corner is the Orcam logo together with the Israeli flag.

These are just some of our currently favorite accessibility initiatives––but we know there’s more out there! If you know about any that should be on our radar, make sure to let us and everybody else know by sharing, retweeting, commenting or tagging us on social media!