BlindSquare provides improved transportation information with BlindWays

Perkins partners with MIPsoft, makers of the popular BlindSquare app, to help more travelers with visual impairments find bus stops in the Boston area.

Jerry Berrier standing at a T bus stop using his iPhone for navigation

One of the world’s most popular GPS apps for people with visual impairment just got even better thanks to a partnership with Perkins School for the Blind.

On April 1, the developers of BlindSquare launched a new version of their popular GPS app containing built-in data from BlindWays, Perkins’ mobile bus stop app. Now, BlindSquare users in Boston can hear detailed audio clues to help them navigate to within a white cane’s distance of their exact bus stop.

“Together they’re a total solution for users,” said Perkins Solutions Executive Director Luiza Aguiar. “BlindSquare can get you close to your bus stop, but then the challenge still exists: where is the exact bus stop location? That’s where BlindWays kicks in.”

BlindSquare is one of the world’s most popular navigation apps for people who are blind, with users in 160 countries. The iPhone app combines GPS technology with information on local businesses to give users a detailed description of their outdoor surroundings. The app also utilizes beacon technology to help travelers navigate inside buildings and transportation hubs.

The BlindSquare app normally costs $39.99, but a Boston-only version known as BlindSquare EVENT will be available until the end of June at no cost. It contains built-in BlindWays data for nearly 8,000 Boston-area bus stops.

Perkins Solutions Trainer Joann Becker uses the BlindSquare app regularly. If she’s looking for a Japanese restaurant or a coffee shop, she can search those categories and quickly find options in her area. She’s also found the app useful for learning more about her community, she said.

“When I’m on the bus I’ll use it because it lists the businesses we’re passing,” she said. “Before I never had a clue what was on a particular street. It’s so nice to have an overview of what’s around.”

The addition of BlindWays data has made the BlindSquare app even more useful, said Becker. She no longer has to toggle between the apps on her phone to access bus stop clues when she needs them.

“It’s seamless,” she said.

BlindWays utilizes crowd-sourcing to populate its navigational clues. Sighted and blind users can log in and describe physical landmarks at various bus stops – things like fire hydrants, metal poles or trash cans. Using those clues, a person who is blind can navigate to the precise location of their bus stop.

BlindWays was developed by Perkins with grant funding from The Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities, and hit Apple’s App Store last September. Its easy-to-use interface and straightforward mission impressed Rob Nevin and Ilkka Pirttimaa of MIPsoft, the software company that developed BlindSquare.

“We shared a vision for a better solution,” said Pirttimaa. “This partnership is another great example of how we can ‘connect the dots’ to facilitate not just the movement of people, but to add joy to confident travel.”

Until June 30, 2017, iPhone users can download and use BlindSquare EVENT free of charge. BlindWays data is available only for Boston-area bus stops. Contribute navigational clues by downloading the free BlindWays app.  

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