Perkins School for the Blind Launches Public Transportation App

The app, called BlindWays, uses crowdsourcing to help users find bus stops.

Joann Becker uses BlindWays to find a bus stop. Photo provided.

Joann Becker uses BlindWays/Photo provided.

Imagine standing at what you thought was a bus stop, only to have the bus blow past you. That’s an experience Joann Becker is all too familiar with.

Becker, who is blind, remembers growing increasingly frustrated during the winter months, when her GPS would bring her close—but not close enough—to a bus stop, and she would be left standing in the cold.

Becker, an assistive technology specialist at Perkins School for the Blind, brought the problem to Luiza Aguiar, director of products at Perkins Solutions. With all the technology we have, Aguiar thought, there must be a way to solve the issue of micronavigation, or filling the not-close-enough gap left by GPS. In coordination with RaizLabs, Perkins developed BlindWays as a way to fill that gap.

BlindWays, which officially launched Tuesday, uses crowdsourced clues to help the visually impaired find bus stops. Contributors can add any clue that makes identifying a stop easier—nearby fire hydrants or benches, for example, or even sounds and smells.

“When we were doing our testing, we had non-sighted users who said, ‘Look, I can tell the difference between a Starbucks and a Dunkin’ Donuts by the smell,'” Aguiar says. “There are going to be environmental landmark clues that sighted folks don’t pick up on.”

The community response has been positive.

“Among the blind community, I know I’ve gotten several text messages and people have called and said they’re excited to test out the app,” Becker says.

Though the app is aimed at increasing transportation accessibility for those who are visually impaired, it’s appealing to both sighted and non-sighted users, Becker says. With other bus apps, users have to go through an “arduous procedure” to find information about a busbut BlindWays is simple to navigate and includes bus arrival times and the three closest bus stops.

“In combination with it being this great resource for blind people,” Becker says, “sighted people are going to find it equally useful.”

The app is free for download in the Apple Store, but is not yet available for Android.