[nfbmi-talk] promising new app in subwa to assist the blind

Terry D. Eagle terrydeagle at yahoo.com
Sat Dec 27 23:00:41 UTC 2014

New app will help blind navigate MBTA stations

An indoor navigation system will open new doors for the visually impaired

Jonathan Gale, 59, who has been blind since birth, has been commuting for
years and said using the app is empowering.

Jonathan Gale, 59, who has been blind since birth, has been commuting for
years and said using the app is empowering.

By Nicole DungcaGlobe Staff  December 22, 2014

Edward Tabor tapped his white cane in front of him as he recently made his
way through Park Street Station, then quietly asked a woman he didn't know

After the stranger led him a few steps toward the turnstiles, Tabor, 23,
told an MBTA employee where he wanted to go. Tabor then took the employee's

as the man led him toward his destination, descending three flights of
stairs toward the Alewife-bound Red Line train.
"Where do you want to end up? Front of the train? Back of the train?" the
MBTA employee asked.

After decades of commuting, Jonathan Gale, 59, said he knows nearly every
station on the MBTA's subway lines.
But on a recent afternoon, Gale, who has been blind since birth, also needed
help. He asked a stranger to point him in the right direction to his Green
line train.

Continue reading it below

 View Story How the PERCEPT app works

Here is how a blind or visually impaired commuter would use the PERCEPT
application to navigate the inside the Arlington MBTA station.

This is what taking the subway is like for riders who are blind.
A new application being developed at the University of Massachusetts Amherst
is meant to help visually impaired people navigate T stations on their own.

The MBTA has helped fund the creation of PERCEPT - an indoor navigation
system that one day will allow users to make their way through a T station
by listening
to step-by-step directions on their smartphones, which lead them to
electronic sensors or "tags" throughout the building.

Testing of the system is ongoing, but it is hoped that the application could
be ready for use in the Arlington Station in early 2015. Once approved by
MBTA, the app would be free to users.

For people like Tabor, one of five people who has helped test the
application, it could mean more independence.
"It really is all about being able to go on your own and feel comfortable
doing something for the first time, which is difficult to come by if you're
impaired," Tabor said.

In 2004, Aura Ganz, a professor at UMass Amherst, began developing the
technology to help the visually impaired navigate inside unfamiliar

Larry Haile, a former accessibility coordinator for the MBTA, met Ganz at a
conference and convinced MassDOT to partner with her to develop indoor
for the T. Haile's efforts led to a two-year, $238,321 grant from the
Massachusetts Department of Transportation to fund the pilot at the
Arlington station.

"Generally, in America, there's very little done to help people with visual
impairments at subway stations," said Haile, who is blind.

About 30,000 people across the state are registered as legally blind,
according to the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind. Those registered
with the
commission can get a free Charlie Card for the MBTA, and are allowed to
bring a friend or mobility instructor for help.
But even with such accommodations, Haile said few blind people use the T.

"For some people, it can be daunting," he said. "There are some who use the
system with no problem at all. Then there are some that rely on paratransit
because they don't believe their orientation skills are sufficient."
Chris Danielsen, a spokesman for the National Federation for the Blind, said
the biggest challenge to using the navigation technology throughout the
system is installing the infrastructure in every single station.

"It's never going to replace the need for a blind person to have a white
cane or a guide dog," Danielsen said. "But it could be a very important
to help navigate independently."

With PERCEPT, tags that are nearly as small as a Scrabble tile are placed
throughout the station. Users listen to detailed directions on their phone

lead them from tag to tag until the user gets to their destination.

For example, the directions given at one tag might be: "With the tag to your
right side, turn right and trail the wall on your right side, until you
the metal gate. This is a long hallway that will lead into main lobby."

The app developers partnered with the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind
to develop the directions, using mobility instructors who help blind people
get acquainted with new areas.

Gale said using the PERCEPT app is empowering. "I don't care if it's
teaching a person to put peanut butter and jelly on a sandwich again, or go
a subway station," he said. "It's all contributing toward a person having
their own world, their own space, their own freedom."

Gale thinks others with "hidden" disabilities, such as cognitive issues,
could also find the application useful.

"Whatever the disability might be, those folks can benefit from a system
like that," he said. "It's like having a friend in your pocket that you can

Tabor, who moved to Watertown in 2011 to live and work at the Perkins School
for the Blind, thinks most people take their independence for granted.

>From the school, the Connecticut native often takes the bus to the subway to
meet friends in the Park Street area. He rarely strays from the stations he
knows, and prefers to be shown around by a mobility instructor or a friend.

But with a program like PERCEPT, he hopes to become more spontaneous.

"A GPS can get you down a street or to a building," he said. "But when
you're in a place like a T station, it's really helpful to know there's
that can help you get through it."


Nicole Dungca can be reached at

nicole.dungca at globe.com.

Follow her on Twitter





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