Shinjuku Gyoen is currently running a trial of its new smartphone guide this week and Accessible Japan was invited to try it out to ensure it can be a service for all visitors.
The new head of accessibility at Shinjuku Gyoen has only been on the job for a short time but is already making great improvements. He was responsible for getting the park to purchase a long portable ramp so that visitors in wheelchairs can visit the Old Imperial Rest House (the building is a protected heritage site and cannot be renovated), and he is keen to get the perspective of those with disabilities for their new smartphone guide app.
The app runs on a phone and headset provided by the park and uses GPS to introduce points of interest to visitors. As you approach a designated spot, the headphones will play a tone and vibrate to indicate the point of interest. Pressing play, the guide will share interesting facts and images with the user, providing a much more immersive visit to the park.
Points of interest are not the only feature the application shares. The guide will also warn users of places to use extra caution, for example crossing a bridge which has no handrails – a useful feature for those with limited vision.
After trying out the device, Accessible Japan had an opportunity to sit down with the developers to discuss ways to improve the application. They are now planning to add improved contrast settings and text size options for those with visual impairments, the ability to adjust the pitch of the voice for those with limited hearing (currently it is only a high female voice), different ways for those with limited movement to carry the device, and information on finding accessible toilets.
The new service is set to start in Spring 2020, but visitors can try out a beta version of the system until December 15th, 2019. We encourage those visiting Japan who have disabilities to try it out so your feedback can help shape the development of this service.