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A New App Will Give Virtual Tours Around Fort Lauderdale's Historic Stranahan House

Stranahan House
Caitie Switalski
The app, available soon on four iPads donated to the museum, takes someone on a guided virtual tour of the historic house.

It was an Ohio native in 1893 who sparked the development that would grow the City of Fort Lauderdale.

A tradesman and postmaster for the New River settlement, Frank Stranahan built what's now the city's oldest building in 1901. The Historic Stranahan House and Museum is two-story high and still sits in its original location by the New River. 

About 10,000 visitors and students tour the house each year, but until now people living with disabilities have only been able to access certain parts of the house by looking at photographs in a book. 

"We do have challenges," the museum's Executive Director, April Kirk, said. "For people who were not able to navigate the stairs, someone would sit with them and go through the book and show them photos...we've redone the book twice and it's still outdated." 

Now, a new app will take the place of the photo album.

A group of local professionals from this year's Leadership Broward (class 37) created an iPad application that leads people on a guided video and audio tour of the Stranahan's old house. 

"There's no elevator for someone with a wheelchair... to experience the second floor, the beautiful balcony, and look at what the house would have looked like back then," said Henny Shomar, director at Tripp Scott P.A. and also one of the Leadership Broward members who worked on the virtual tour. 

"The app gives you closed captioning in over 200 languages," he said. "It touched me personally."

Shomar's father is legally blind. People with impaired vision can listen to an audio guided tour, and people with impaired hearing can see captioned videos with the help of Google Translate services. 

"The way that it's described, it's like you're there," Shomar said about the audio tour for his dad.

The app is not available for smartphones in the app store, but it can be used at the museum on four iPads. 

Other groups from this year's development class were paired with different local nonprofit agencies that submitted project proposals late last year. 

Together, the group working with the Stranahan House networked to find local businesses to help with the app. An estimated $100,000 worth of time and resources were donated to create it, and it came together in about a nine-month time frame. 

Read More: Sea-Level Rise Affects Fort Lauderdale's Oldest Building

However, the face-to-face experience of having a person lead you around the house won't disappear just because there's an app, Kirk said. 

"People will still always continue to be on a guided tour, they will just now have the use of technology to assist them," she said. 

The museum is taking the summer to train its tour guides how to use the app, and it is also working to add a sign language option. It will officially become available for visitors and tourists at the museum in the fall. Kirk also said, they will be sharing the app with other historic houses around the country. 

"We want to help be a leader in making a hard-to-navigate historic house more accommodating," Kirk said.

Caitie Muñoz, formerly Switalski, produces WLRN's midday public affairs program, Sundial weekdays at 1 and 8 p.m. Prior to transitioning to production, Caitie covered news and stories concerning quality of life in Broward County and its municipalities for WLRN News for four years.