With the push of a button, the visually impaired can activate pre-recorded directions from Step-Hear’s base units, helping the user navigate anything from a museum to a hospital or a shopping center.Imagine if you were standing in the hallway of an office building and couldn’t see where the elevator to the next floor is. Now imagine that at the touch of a button, a prerecorded voice tells you exactly where to find the elevator. Another touch of the button, and the voice tells you which floor you need for your destination. Now this kind of aid for the visually impaired has become a reality, in the form of a new device created by Israeli company Step-Hear.

While modern technology has not yet found a cure for blindness, the technology of Step-Hear can pave the way to increasing the independence and convenience of the visually impaired. The device, which was developed by engineers who specialize in special needs technologies, is an information and navigation reference point system consisting of two components: the base unit and the activator.

The base unit is installed in key locations and contains pre-recorded information. Step-Hear base units can be located in public buildings, hospitals, transportation, shopping centers, and even museum exhibitions.

The activator is a much smaller device that is owned by individual people and resembles a remote control. A user in possession of a Step-Hear activator will be alerted that a Step-Hear base unit is nearby, by both a vibration and beeping from the activator. When the user presses the button of the activator, the base unit’s pre-recorded information will be played from the activator, for the user’s benefit.

Another feature of the Step-Hear device is that when the user presses the button on an activator near a facility that has a base unit, someone who works in the facility will be alerted and send assistance. This can work, for example, if there is a base unit on a public bus -the bus driver will be alerted that there is someone who needs help getting onto the bus. Meanwhile, the base unit will provide information to the activator about the bus route.

Universal recognition from Hong Kong to Hawaii

The goal of the Step-Hear company, which was founded by Marcel Grossman, chairman of Geemarc Telecom S.A. a leader in assistive technologies for the hearing impaired, and Moshe Kilim, chairman of Mehalev, the leading distributor of Assistive Listening Devices in Israel, is to install units in as many places as possible for the benefit of the visually impaired.

The Step-Hear activator has universal recognition, which means that it doesn’t matter if the user is in Hong Kong or Hawaii. One activator will work with base units all over the world. At $25, the activator is affordable, and has recently been approved for subsidy by Israel’s Ministry of Social Services.

The Step-Hear base units were recently purchased for installation in Israel by a shopping mall, a day-care center for people with special needs, and universities. The base units cost as little as $130.

An eight month-old company, Step-Hear is still new to the arena of worldwide marketing. But according to Yael Furman, directing manager of Step-Hear, the company’s efforts to market the product to an international audience are gaining momentum. Earlier this month, the company attended the CSUN exhibition in Los Angeles.

“Step-Hear has participated in international conferences and exhibitions, where the product attracted a lot of attention and interest,” says Furman.