Published on 11 October 2021

Sail the seven seas despite a visual impairment? SARA makes it possible!

Olivier Ducruix doesn’t let his visual impairment interfere with his passion for sailing, which for him is a source of fulfillment and freedom. To share this feeling, he co-develped the SARA (Sail and Race Audioguide) app with Mathieu Simonnet, to enable visually impaired and blind people to navigate (almost) independently.

 

SARA offers navigational freedom

“A sailboat is the only method of transport that can be piloted without seeing because the bodies of water are large enough,” explains Olivier Ducruix, who is visually impaired himself. So long as you have a sighted assistant with you, or better yet an app that can provide all the data you need about the boat’s direction, speed and sailing conditions.

That’s the ambition behind SARA, the app Olivier Ducruix co-developed with Mathieu Simonnet, president of the Orion association which has already launched another navigational aid for the visually impaired. SARA was first conceived when the pair met while sailing back in 2009, but the technology was not sufficiently advanced to make it a reality. The first version of the app had to wait until 2016, when it was tested during a regatta. Developed within Orange’s digital skills center (CCA) and in partnership with the French Sailing Federation, SARA provides voice information relating to the boat’s starting position, course and progress during the race. “We tested it out with sighted people who were blindfolded during the race, and they said they discovered new sensations when it came to sailing on the water,” rejoices Olivier Ducruix. The app was successful, so much so that two years later a cruise version was released, which delivers the same functionality, and which can also be connected to on-board instruments. Olivier and Mathieu won a call for projects for this cruise version from the French National Union of the Blind and Visually Impaired (UNADEV).

Since May 2021, the app has been available to download for free from the App Store in several languages: French, English, Spanish, Italian and soon Japanese.

What’s more, the app can be extended to further watersports such as rowing, paddling and kayaking. Olivier Ducruix has received several requests from all over the world, which will open the app to new horizons.

Olivier Ducruix et Mathieu Simonnet en mer

 

How Orange is involved in digital accessibility

“Since the launch of the project, Orange has been a real driving force in its development,” explains Olivier Ducruix. During his time as an Orange employee, he received advice and guidance about IT and ergonomics from the CCA and IT department and was also able to access technical testing environments in situ on boats in open water. The Orange Foundation also contributed to SARA’s funding. A win-win, since in return Orange benefited from Olivier Ducruix’s creativity, design innovation and collaboration, particularly in terms of inclusive technology. As Olivier Ducruix says, “digital technology represents a real revolution that has the power to change lives, especially for people with disabilities, so long as platforms and applications have been designed with them in mind too.” Indeed, all websites and applications should comply with accessibility rules, as defined by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Olivier is working on behalf of the CCA to raise awareness among engineers and developers about adapting technology to be more accessible to people with disabilities. Orange has also supported his secondment to UNADEV to work on the Cécivoile project, which aims to introduce sailing to more people with visual impairments.

Olivier Ducruix believes disability shouldn’t be the only pretext for innovation – the only failure is not trying. Even if the road is complex, teamwork enables progress because not everyone needs to have the same strength or skillset. This is the power of diversity.

Mathieu Simonnet et Olivier Ducruix travaillent ensemble sur l'application SARA

Olivier Ducruix and Mathieu Simonnet

 

Digital technology represents a real revolution that has the power to change lives, especially for people with disabilities, so long as platforms and applications have been designed with them in mind too.