RightHear: Expanding Accessibility with Real-Time Audio Wayfinding

By Mark Ogilbee posted 08-31-2023 08:28 AM


An AgeTech Collaborative™ startup participant, RightHear is an audible wayfinding system that provides talking signage delivered through a smartphone or tablet, so that anyone can understand and interpret their surroundings in real time. RightHear also helps enterprises improve their compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act while enhancing their customers’ experience.

CEO Idan Meir recently told us about the company, its offering and its expansive vision of accessibility and equality for everyone.


Please tell us about RightHear.

RightHear is an innovative startup on a mission to turn public spaces into accessible environments for people with spatial orientation challenges, including people who are blind or visually impaired. 

We provide real-time audio descriptions to help the blind interpret and understand their surroundings. We have a free app on iOS and Android, over 2,500 accessible locations worldwide and an ever-growing user base and community. RightHear has partnered with leading international brands like McDonalds, Microsoft and Costa Coffee to improve accessibility compliance as well as to promote inclusion.


How does the technology work?

The technology pairs a smartphone app with strategically placed Bluetooth beacons or accessible spots to provide detailed and customizable audio wayfinding information for all kinds of public indoor environments. RightHear mimics the function of a venue’s directory board, whether that’s a sign reading “Macy’s this way, restrooms that way” in a mall, or orienting a visitor inside a university’s administration building. 

When users with the RightHear app on their phone approach the virtual sign, the app speaks to them about what’s nearby. For example, it might say, “The admissions office is 100 feet ahead to the right. Hours are 9:00am to 5:00pm, Monday through Friday,” or “Restrooms are 50 feet to the left.” [You can see a video of the app in action here.]


Does RightHear have any particular benefits for people who are 50-plus?

Over the last 30 years, there has been a reduction in the proportion of people with visual impairment and blindness worldwide. However, growing and aging populations mean that the challenge is now bigger than ever before. The risk of most eye conditions increases with age; as a result, the prevalence of blindness is much greater in older age groups. Of the 253 million visually impaired people worldwide, 80% are aged 50 years or older.

We believe that everyone should feel able, included and empowered, everywhere. Our aim at RightHear is to make the world a more accessible place for everyone. Our beacon technology removes physical barriers to access. But that’s not enough — we also want to remove financial barriers to access. That’s why our app on iOS and Android is 100% free to users today, and it always will be free. To us, it’s vital that accessibility and independence for users should not come at a cost.


What inspired you to start the company?

It happened almost by accident. My partner, Gil Elgrably, and I had created a technology to offer shoppers virtual on-the-spot coupons based on Apple’s iBeacon technology. iBeacons are small, self-powered Bluetooth transmitters that can be placed on walls and roofs in a retail location. But the business model wasn’t making sense. We needed to build a very large user base for this to work, and that was turning into a very large challenge.

Then, during a 24-hour hackathon sponsored by the Ra’anana municipality, the Tel Aviv suburb in which RightHear is based, we had an insight. Rather than marketing the app to end users, what if we pitched it to venues as a way of making their space accessible to people with visual impairment?

We didn’t even know if blind people used smartphones or apps since they’re so visual, but we put together a prototype in the hackathon and, the next day, the Ra’anana municipality connected us with several blind people in the city. They were incredibly excited about it, even though we didn’t have a product yet. And RightHear was born!


What are some obstacles the company has had to overcome, and how did you navigate them?

We've encountered several challenges, including public awareness, which we’ve addressed by partnering with renowned brands and conducting educational seminars. Another challenge has been technological adaptation. To address that, we didn't just invest in R&D; we actively involved our end users in the development process. We believe that the people who use our app are the best judges of its functionality. Their feedback has been invaluable in making necessary adjustments and ensuring a seamless user experience across multiple devices. This approach has emphasized the importance of community involvement and continuous learning for us.


How did you find your way to the AgeTech Collaborative™?

Because the issue of blindness and visual impairment is closely linked to aging, as a company we have always been acutely aware of the importance of our work for people aged 50-plus. We see our company playing a key role in expanding accessibility and equality for people of all ages, ensuring that people with visual challenges can retain their independence and dignity throughout their lives. As a result, we have always been aware of the AgeTech Collaborative™ and the great work that it does.


What's your experience with the AgeTech Collaborative™ been like?

It’s been extremely positive. We’ve received valuable introductions that have the potential to significantly benefit our mission. We're particularly excited about the prospect of deepening our relationship through collaborations with organizations like AARP. Overall, the Collaborative has proven to be an excellent platform for us to expand our network and explore new opportunities for making public spaces more accessible to the aging population.


What's next on the horizon for your company?

What's next on the horizon for us is truly exciting. We have several major updates slated for the end of this year, and one I'm particularly enthusiastic about is the launch of RightHear Connect. This will allow access control companies that design security systems for businesses to collaborate with us, broadening our impact and capabilities. We’ll be announcing more details at the end of October.


What do you want to ask people to do after learning about your app?

We would love people to download the app on iOS (here) and Android (here). It’s free to download and use, and we don’t even require a sign-up or login — we collect no personal information about our users. And we would love it if people shared the app with everyone they know for whom it might be applicable and helpful.

But perhaps even more importantly, we want people who are blind or visually impaired — or anyone who simply believes in accessibility and equality for all — to contact their local businesses and venues and request that they make their venues accessible for everyone.  We work with companies from local stores, restaurants, museums, hospitals and airports, all the way up to governments and global companies such as Microsoft, McDonalds and others. Our mission is to make the world more accessible to all. The more that people reach out to businesses and organizations and request solutions such as ours, the better it will be for everyone.