WATERTOWN – The MBTA, Massachusetts Department of Transportation and Perkins School for the Blind today launched a new BlindWays app that makes it easier for customers who are blind or have low vision to find bus stops.
“Public transportation provides a vital lifeline for people with disabilities to access employment, education, healthcare, other critical services and amenities,” said MassDOT Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack. “That is why I am proud that MassDOT and the MBTA are partners with the Perkins School for the Blind on this worthwhile effort to deploy technology to help meet the needs of all of the T’s customers.”
“Being able to access public transportation reliably allows individuals with disabilities to live independently within their communities,” said MBTA General Manager Brian Shortsleeve. “The MBTA welcomes any opportunity to strengthen our ability to provide that service.”
Today’s commercially available GPS leaves a traveler within a 30-50 foot radius of their destination, which is a short-distance navigational challenge, often referred to as the “last 50 feet of frustration.” Imagine the frustration of hearing a bus approach and then listening as it drives right by you, simply because you were standing in the wrong place. For people who are blind or have low vision, this is a common occurrence that can mean missing a job interview, a medical appointment, or the chance to socialize with friends.
Despite accessible smartphones and navigation app improvements, pedestrians who are blind or have low vision still face challenges when navigating to public transportation. Perkins School for the Blind’s app aims to erase that “50 feet of frustration” – called micronavigation – when it comes to finding bus stops. Perkins developed the iPhone app that helps people who are blind or have low vision locate MBTA bus stops via crowdsourced landmark clues and provide predictive bus arrival information.
“BlindWays is just one example of how Perkins is focused on developing innovative solutions for more people,” said Dave Power, President and CEO of Perkins School for the Blind. “We are proud to have worked closely with the MBTA to help people who are blind or have low vision find their bus stops and travel more independently.”
The success of BlindWays depends on crowdsourcing, users who volunteer to contribute the clues about the approximately 7,800 bus stops throughout the MBTA system. Anyone with an iPhone and a desire to create a more inclusive community for people who are blind or have low vision can make a difference by downloading the BlindWays app for free from the App Store. With a few taps on the app, people who use or pass by MBTA bus stops every day can easily contribute information about surrounding landmarks.
The project is funded with help from a Google.org grant. The $750,000 grant was awarded through the Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities.
For more information about BlindWays, visit http://www.perkins.org/blindways and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Fw_9FrIDWw&feature=youtu.be.