Perkins School for the Blind's BlindWays™ app now supports beacon technology through MBTA pilot project

BlindWays 2.0 augments crowdsourced clues with beacon feedback to help commuters with visual impairments navigate to bus stops

A woman using a white cane while boarding an MBTA bus

BlindWays users trying to locate select MBTA bus stops will now receive vibrating alerts via bluetooth beacons.

May 7, 2018

WATERTOWN, MA – May 7, 2018 – Perkins School for the Blind has enhanced its groundbreaking micronavigation app, designed to help commuters with visual impairment find their bus stops, by bolstering it with new technology that makes traveling even easier.

Still free to use, BlindWays 2.0 now alerts riders along select MBTA bus routes when they’ve found their outdoor stop via signals from bluetooth beacons, installed in bus stop signs, that trigger iPhone vibration.

“Perkins continues to foster innovation by working collaboratively, as we are with the MBTA and developer Raizlabs on this initiative, to solve challenges for people who are visually impaired,” said Luiza Aguiar, executive director of Perkins Solutions. “We’re motivated to help create a transportation infrastructure that is equally accessible to all riders. Augmenting BlindWays to leverage beacons speeds us along that path.”

Screenshot of app screen showing directions to a bus stop.

The first iteration of BlindWays was released in fall of 2016, providing users with crowdsourced landmark clues to help them navigate the last 30 feet of frustration standard GPS models leave between users and their exact destinations. Developed in partnership with Raizlabs, BlindWays 2.0 users can still rely on those landmark clues, while also making use of information emitted by beacons to find the precise location of their bus stops.

The MBTA is currently piloting beacons along bus routes 70 and 71 with the goal of understanding how beacons impact users’ confidence in locating their bus stop. The trial, part of the MBTA’s System-Wide Accessibility (SWA) Access Initiatives, represents the transit organization’s dedication to new technologies that can improve the commuting experience for its users with disabilities.

“This pilot is just one way we continue to affirm our commitment to all our riders,” said MBTA Chief Technology Officer David Block-Schachter. “Through that commitment, we believe the MBTA can become a nationwide model for accessible public transit.”

Perkins has a long history of embracing new technology to solve everyday problems faced by people who are blind, deafblind and multiply disabled. This past January, Perkins partnered with the tech outfit Aira to become the first campus in the country to pilot the company’s remote sighted guide service. And just last month, the school hosted its first-ever hackathon, which attracted more than 100 college students from across the country.

BlindWays has also been recognized well beyond the confines of the school’s campus. In December, the app was selected by Cooper Hewitt, the Smithsonian’s design museum in New York City, for inclusion in its much heralded “Access+Ability” exhibit, which showcases advancements in the field of empathetic, user-centered design thinking.

“It’s of the utmost importance, in all the work we do, that we actively seek input from the people we serve,” added Aguiar. “Without that effort, without those voices, either these very real problems will persist or solutions will be created that don’t work for all.”

JoAnn Becker, an assistive technology specialist at Perkins and a passionate traveler who is blind, first brought the challenge of accurately finding bus stops to Perkins Solutions three years ago. Her real-life commuting experiences, and those of her peers, led to the development of BlindWays.

“Missing the bus when you’re trying to get to work is so, so stressful,” said Becker. “Getting tactile information telling me that I’m close, that’s going to help me get to work and other appointments more confidently, independently and on time. It sounds basic, but it’s vitally important.”

BlindWays, available in the App Store, now contains crowdsourced clues for more than 5,300 of approximately 7,500 MBTA bus stops. Volunteers, with or without vision, can learn how to contribute clues at www.Perkins.org/BlindWays.

Media Contacts:

Jackson Murphy
jmurphy@solomonmccown.com
P: 617-933-5011

Rebecca Fater
Rebecca.Fater@Perkins.org
P: 617-972-7878; 978-866-0324

Perkins School for the Blind

Since 1829, Perkins School for the Blind has been a leader in preparing students for the world and the world for our students. Today, Perkins’ works globally to foster accessibility with the goal that every person can learn to be as independent as possible and fulfill their unique potential. Learn more at Perkins.org.