Picture this: You fly off to Rome, head to the Coliseum and, using your iPhone, play a video that guides you around the ancient arena where gladiators and lions once roamed. Later, walk across Piazza del Colosseo to the Roman Forum and view a video tour of the sprawling Forum ruins, taking in what was once the center of ancient Rome. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing, you can turn on the captioning feature.
This vision will soon be a reality, thanks to Keen Guides, an up-and-coming Virginia-based company that’s in the process of creating and selling short-format GPS-based video and audio tours for the iPhone and later, BlackBerry and Android phones. These tours — available in app stores — will focus on museums and popular tourist attractions; your phone can recognize the ones nearest to you.
Best of all, Keen Guide’s audio and video content will be captioned for the deaf of hard and hearing. Audio that is created by third parties, such as DC on Foot, will be enhanced with relevant images. Other accessibility modules that will be explored include sign language and cued speech. Down the line, Keen Guides wants to add audio described tours for the visually impaired.
“All of our content will be accessible to the deaf community, and If I have to hire a staff of captioners, I will,” says Catharine McNally, the founder of Keen Guides who started the company two years ago. McNally, a museum lover who also has been deaf since birth, knows a thing or two about accessible excursions.
After graduating from Wake Forest University in 2006, McNally began developing braille booklets (for the blind) and transcripts (for the deaf) to help make museums more accessible. She took her endeavors a step further when she connected with a Wake Forest alumna, and the two began developing guides on mobile platforms. So impressive is the company’s model, that Keen Guides won seed capital in 2009 from LaunchBox Digital, an early stage investment firm and incubator.
With smart phones and GPS rapidly gaining mass-market acceptance, McNally and her team see an opportunity to take advantage of these trends. “There will be an increasing demand for immediate, relevant, and local information,” says McNally, “from educational content to local retailers, businesses, and restaurants.”
In April, Keen Guides will launch a Beta pilot in three cities: Washington, D.C., Austin, Texas, and Winston-Salem, North Carolina – cities with high technology adoption rates, strong tourism levels, and significant college and university bases, McNally says. The company has also contracted with Wake Forest and Gallaudet universities to develop campus tours for prospective students and other visitors.
So next time you’re in Rome, make sure you’ve got your smart phone with you, along with the Keen Guides app. With these great downloadable tours, you won’t want to leave home without it.
Check out my Q&A with Keen Guides founder Catharine McNally