Introducing the UK's first travel app for visually impaired passengers

Transport for Edinburgh app improvements

Blind and visually impaired bus and tram passengers will now be able to navigate more independently around Edinburgh thanks to new features on the Transport for Edinburgh mobile app.

Councillor Lesley Hinds, Transport Convener and Chair of Transport for Edinburgh, said:

We are committed to providing accessible travel for everyone in Edinburgh, and this app will further enable passengers to make the most of the services on offer.

This is one of many innovations by Transport for Edinburgh to create a modern, integrated network for the city, allowing us to provide one of the most accessible public transport services in Scotland.

Working closely with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and the Royal Blind School, the company has updated its existing app to include key features to assist blind and visually impaired passsengers using Lothian Buses and Edinburgh Tram services.

John McEvoy, Digital Designer at Transport for Edinburgh, said:

This has been a real partnership with the RNIB and Royal Blind School over many months to make our app as user-friendly for our blind and visually impaired passengers as possible.

We’ve received really positive feedback about the app following trials with members of the RNIB and are delighted to finally make it available to the public. It’s the next step in app technology and we’re really proud to be the first bus company to launch it in the UK.

The free app (available on Apple and Android Smartphones) will now include VoiceOver technology which will allow blind and visually impaired customers to have any part of the app to spoken to them including next stop announcements and walking directions to a bus or tram stop.  With the app installed, a customer can point their phone at a tram or bus stop and the phone will announce the name of the stop and where services go from there.

The app provides real-time departure information for every bus and tram stop in Edinburgh. It also knows which bus or tram a passenger is travelling on using GPS, and can announce the next stop even if the phone is locked and in the passenger's pocket. This means blind passengers won't miss their stop.

Professor Stephen Gilmore, of the QUANTICOL project at the University of Edinburgh, said:

The late Steve Jobs of Apple took the task of making mobile phone apps accessible to blind or disabled people very seriously indeed.  His insights were truly an inspiration. Stevie Wonder praised Steve Jobs for his work in this areas, saying ‘There’s nothing that you can do on the iPhone that I can’t do on the iPhone.

Unfortunately, the technology needed to make a mobile phone app accessible to a blind person is too little known generally.  In fact, most people would be puzzled as to how a blind person could use a smartphone at all. The answer is the phone can synthesise a human voice so that a blind user can hear information being read to them as opposed to seeing it with their eyes in the same way in that a sighted person can. 

In addition to that they have included an absolutely unique feature called “Stop Radar” which allows a blind user of the app to use the built-in compass of the phone to identify which bus stops are around them in various directions. Their idea to do that was an incredible step forward in solving the first part of the problem: how can a blind person even find a bus stop in the first place?

Transport for Edinburgh have advanced the concept of accessibility to an unbelievable extent.  As well as making their app accessible, they have included features such as locating bus or tram an app user is on, and announcing the next stop in time for users to get ready to disembark.  I hope that other transport companies all around the UK — and indeed in every country in the world — will follow their lead and use the new Transport for Edinburgh app as an inspiring example of how to make visually-impaired passengers' experience on public transport better, easier, and safer.

Posted on: Thu, April 16, 2015 at 11:13
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