App lets blind hikers explore France

Voice-guided system can lead visually impaired people around adapted footpaths

Three people hiking on a mountain
Two more adapted trails will be ready this year, with further ones planned
Published Last updated

Partially-sighted and blind people will soon have access to even more adapted footpaths in the south of France on which they can hike independently thanks to a voice-guided app.

The Openway app is a GPS-based smartphone application with both voice cues and a clear, simplified visual display. 

It was developed by Gérard Muller, a blind engineer who used it to walk the 1,600km Chemin de Saint-Jacques de Compostelle path, including 750km of the trail on his own - thanks to the app.

Openway can be used to help visually impaired people walk around cities or visit cultural areas in addition to hiking routes.

It has been thoroughly tested in the city of Strasbourg (Bas-Rhin) and on the Chemin de Stevenson hiking trail.

However, hiking routes present a particular challenge: they have to be made more accessible, GPS and mobile coverage needs to be checked and the route has to be thoroughly tested.

The Openway app is available for Android and iOS devices.

New trails in Cahors

The Bégoux-Environnement association aims to make two more trails ready in 2024, with plans for more once they have a better idea of how long each takes to set up. 

The first new trail currently being transcribed into the app will start in Bégoux, a neighbourhood of Cahors (Lot). 

Pierre Pélaprat, a member of Bégoux-Environnement, told The Connexion that he wants other people to enjoy the beautiful countryside as much as he does.

A retired military man, he has been setting up hiking trails for the residents of Bégoux for around two years. Four are already available, with details at gratuit-4294220.webador.fr.

Trails for physical handicaps too

The arrival of an institute for young blind people gave Mr Pélaprat the idea of setting up trails specially adapted to the visually impaired. 

The idea has since grown: “I thought, ‘If we can do it for visually impaired people, why not for people with physical disabilities too?’” he said.

Mr Pélaprat intends to make trails accessible to people with a ‘Joëlette’ (off-road wheelchair) in the future. 

Bégoux-Environnement presented the idea as part of a ‘call for resident projects’ in Cahors and received €8,400 of funding in 2023, although this money is to be used for different projects. 

Mr Pélaprat estimated the initiative will cost around €1,000-€3,000 to train members and import the trails into the app, and a further €2,000 for materials and supplies.

In total, for both visually impaired and non-visually impaired walkers there will be 13 hiking trails. The shortest will be around 4.5km long, taking around an hour. The longest will be approximately 20km and four hours long. 

The association will only be able to make a handful of these trails accessible to the visually impaired, as they require so much work to set up.

They are also hoping to protect the heritage of the region and educate hikers. Barcodes will be placed along the routes for people to scan and learn about nearby fauna and flora, plus any other useful information. 

For further information email randobegoux@gmail.com