BlindSquare and BlindWays, connecting the dots for travelers in Boston, then and now.

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Discovery and recollection.
Discovery and recollection are two necessary elements for travel for our friends who are blind. This presents a difficult task in a city the size of Boston, with its nearly 8,000 bus stops.

THEN:
It is necessary for all to move from point A to point B, whether home to work, work to play or home to “the necessaries” such as groceries, doctors’ offices, visiting friends or journeys to study. Public transit is a wonderful and beneficial asset. The physical movement of vehicles, coupled with information to support choices for travel, is an important service to the community at large. Still, for a person who is blind, partially-sighted or deafblind the “last few feet” can be a great void.

BlindSquare supports its adventurers with great guidance, based on information available from many sources, but the fact is that “B” (as a destination) is often approximate, leading its adventurers “quite close” but precision is elusive. Perkins School for the Blind took on the challenge to fill this information void.

BlindWays
Let’s consider a bus stop as a “dot” on the map. The focus of BlindWays is to describe “what’s inside the dot” yielding clear descriptions, using consistent language, providing a trustworthy resource for transit riders.

Travel, for a person who is blind, requires a lot of planning, discovery and recollection. That’s a lot to ask of a traveler in Boston, with nearly 8000 bus stops – especially for an adventurer interested in exploring!

Perkins has created an iOS application called BlindWays that provides a means to collect the information from “thousands of discoveries,” from the contribution of hundreds of blind and sighted volunteers, into an application purposely crafted to provide the “micro-navigation” information necessary to lead the traveler closer and closer to the bus stop. The “discovery” is recorded using BlindWays and then is available to the entire community. The “recollection” is at the traveler’s fingertips, sensitive and responsive to their current location. Now, on approach, the adventurer can discover important information on the location of a trash container on the right, the location of a bus shelter on the left, the fact that the stop is “right across from the Fairmont Hotel” or other known points. All adding convenience and confidence for the traveler. All ensuring that when the bus arrives, the traveler is standing in the right spot, without the need to ask for assistance, and no longer “missing the bus.” Wonderful.

BlindSquare
Known to support travel globally, whether live “right now” or to support discovery by simulating travel “to future destinations” provides a yeoman-service daily, “connecting the dots” and presenting information of value and choices for its adventurers.

A vision was shared, between the people behind BlindSquare and BlindWays, to create a perfect case for blind travelers. We posed the question, “What would travel look” like if we could include BlindWays’ detailed descriptions with BlindSquare? The virus of the idea spread quickly and the partnering of the information was completed and announced at CSUN 2017 to great applause.

In Boston, and in many other communities, BlindSquare connects transit information and associates with “the dot,” known as the bus stop. We automatically identify the bus stop “dot” and supply information such as the stop number, expected arrival information about future buses and even interruptions of service often not available to sighted travelers. This is now much better in Boston, today!

NOW.
In Boston, augmenting the transit system information, we now connect to BlindWays’ crowdsourced descriptions of Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) bus stops expanding the information about the “bus-stop-dot” with a simple gesture.

This information is readily available, freely, but on request, to accommodate the “frequent or first” traveler equally well. A frequent traveler is not interrupted with familiar information; a first-time traveler can readily unlock abundant information to support their journey.

Joann Becker, a Boston Transit rider, pictured above:

“I love the convenience of using one app which offers invaluable GPS information coupled with the micro navigation that BlindWays provides its users. I am able to look around with BlindSquare to choose a destination and then use BlindWays clues to help me get within a canes length of the bus stop! I feel empowered using these apps for independent travel around Boston!”

Can I try it myself? Of course!

  • What does this all sound like? An audio demonstration by Ilkka Pirttimaa, simulating a Boston bus stop.
  • Try from home! One advantage that BlindSquare brings is the ability to simulate travel. From across the city, or around the globe, it’s easy to place yourself in a simulated location (such as Boston) and “look around”.

    Let’s simulate a location in Boston! Follow this link on your iPhone with BlindSquare installed and it will simulate a bus stop in Boston and prompt you to “shake your iPhone to hear BlindWays information”. Select “OK” then shake your phone and listen! You can advance to secondary information by shaking your phone again. You can, of course, pick a destination of your own! Have some fun as you adventure around Boston.

  • What if I don’t have BlindSquare? BlindSquare has provided a “free use” area covering all of Boston with BlindSquare Event, until July 1st.
    BlindSquare Event can be downloaded from the app store.

Tell us what you think!

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