Crowdsourcing App Helps Blind Find Their Bus Stop

A woman holding a white cane boards a bus.

The BlindWays app is assisting the blind and visually impaired in Boston, guiding them to the nearest bus stop.

July 15, 2017

NEW YORK — Imagine being lost and unable to find the nearest bus stop.

Now imagine looking for that same bus stop as a person who is blind.

“If there are no sighted people available to guide you,” said Luiza Aguiar, executive director of Perkins Solutions. “You are out of luck.”

Someone with blindness typically relies on a smartphone’s voiceover and GPS functions to help them get around, but there’s a big catch: Devices with GPS usually get people within 30 feet of their final destination.

“But that last 30 feet, when you are blind, is the last 30 feet of frustration, because you can’t get to your precise goal,” Aguiar said.

To address the problem, Perkins Solutions, a division of the Boston-based Perkins School for the Blind, has built a technological solution, the BlindWays app, which Aguiar recently showed off at the New York Times’ “Cities for Tomorrow” conference. The iPhone app is assisting the blind and visually impaired in Boston, guiding them to the nearest bus stop.

Crucial to the app’s usefulness is help from the sighted. They are invited to also download the app and become contributors, reporting landmarks near a transit stop — a fire hydrant, a bench, a tree.

The landmarks offer tactile clues for the blind user. For example, they can include specific descriptions such as “thick metal pole” or “thin square pole.”

Through the public crowdsourcing, contributors have provided these sorts of clues for 5,200 of Boston’s 7,800 bus stops.

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