Joe Hodge demonstrates how to use the Indoor Explorer feature within the Ali Center lobby. | Photo by Rebekah Alvey

This month, the Muhammad Ali Center added a new feature, in partnership with the American Printing House for the Blind (APH), to ensure accessibility and inclusivity for all.

For Joe Hodge, a blind man who has been living in Louisville for seven years, going to museums like the Ali Center would pose certain challenges and intimidations. He said his typical experience would be completely reliant on someone else, and he essentially would be “seeing the world through their eyes.”

A new mobile app, developed by APH, acts as a GPS system, guiding visually impaired people through a building with audio cues.

“It puts you on a playing field you’ve never been on before,” Hodge said. “I can learn about things on my own, which I think is incredible.”

Indoor Explorer is a new feature to the app Nearby Explorer, which uses a GPS location and phone compass to “speak” what is around the user as he moves along. The app is offered for free for Apple or Android phones.

Indoor has mapped out popular indoor locations such as the Louisville International Airport, the downtown Hyatt Regency Hotel and now the Ali Center.

To demonstrate the app, Hodge led me from the center lobby, up the escalators, through some exhibits and back down to the lobby. By turning the phone, the app would signal which direction to go for a specific landmark or what was around him using a voiceover or series of tones.

Different ways of positioning or clicking the phone provide a variety of features. Users also can “explore” different locations ahead of time by searching for features on the app.  

Hodge said he originally started using the app after a 3- or 4-mile cab ride cost him about $40, which he later found out was overpriced. He began using the app to prevent future incidents and to figure out what his surroundings were while walking or driving.

Now, Hodge works at APH and is in quality assurance for the app. He said within the seven years he has been in Louisville, the city has made several measures to make things more accessible, and technology has played a large part.

Nearby Explorer is funded by a grant from the James Graham Brown Foundation. Additionally, the program has received support from Mayor Greg Fischer. One of Fischer’s goals is to make the city an international compassionate city.

“If you’re an accessible city, it’s just one step closer to being the most compassionate city in the world,” said Jeanie Kahnke, senior director of public relations and external affairs at the Ali Center.  

From the center’s beginnings, Kahnke said the Ali family made it clear that accessibility for all should be a focus. Before the app, the museum included a lot of audio features, but she said they were really excited when APH approached them with the app.

“To us, this is just an extension of Muhammad’s legacy,” said Kahnke.

One of Ali’s six core principles is confidence. Kahnke said the app gives confidence for many more people than before.

Jonathan Wahl and Joe Hodge point out one of the many beacons in the Ali Center. | Photo by Rebekah Alvey

Jonathan Wahl, public relations manager with APH, said the organization is working to get popular tourist locations on Indoor so blind or visually impaired people can access them.

He said the Ali Center’s mission clicked with APH and the program.

“It’s intimidating for anyone to travel to a new place, but if you’re blind or visually impaired, it adds a lot of additional challenges,” Wahl said.

One of the coolest stories he’s heard came from an app engineer who was at the airport and overheard someone asking where a bathroom was.

For the first time in his life, the man said he was able to tell a sighted person where a feature was by using the app.

The app is installed in different location through GPS mapping and beacon installation. The app connects with bluetooth beacons that guide users. In the Ali Center, there are several beacons on each level to navigate the museum.

The app currently is focused in Louisville, but APH has published how they map on its website which gives any business anywhere the ability to map for the app. Wahl said the grant helps Louisville act as test run for future cities and states.