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 Step-Hear Provides a Lifeline for the Visually Impaired

By: Ilana Teitelbaum

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 the STEP-HEAR device, created by Israeli company STEP-HEAR Ltd.

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

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. Someone 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.

The goal of STEP-HEAR Ltd. 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 relatively 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 can go for 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, their efforts to market the product to an international audience is gaining momentum. “Step-Hear has participated in international conferences and exhibitions, where the product attracted a lot of attention and interest,” says Furman.


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