BlindWays

GPS can help commuters with visual impairments navigate city streets, but directions often fall 30-50 feet short of the destination. Perkins School for the Blind used a Google.org grant to close that GPS gap. BlindWays for iPhone provides micronavigation clues by describing the unique street features of Boston’s 8,000 MBTA bus stops.

Real human benefit

Working directly with real people in the Perkins community helped me design for their specific perspective. With better information about bus stop geography, commuters with visual impairments travel with increased confidence and independence. BlindWays was recognized as a 2017 Webby Honoree

  • Joann Becker of Perkins School for the Blind identified the "30 foot problem": Getting close enough for GPS to say you have arrived, but still not knowing where the bus will stop.

  • Through the discovery process, I defined two distinct use cases: VoiceOver-optimized bus stop clues, describing relevant street features for visually impaired riders. And a separate crowdsource experience for volunteer tipsters to provide those clues.

  • Hitting the streets with blind bus riders was essential to getting it right. I tested multiple prototypes in real-world conditions, discovering new insights with each iteration.

  • BlindWays currently covers Boston-area bus stops, but is rolling out in new cities across the country soon. While approaching a selected bus stop, riders are presented with familiar street landmarks in sequence, to confirm their location with a cane or by touch. To meet a range of accessibility needs, the interface is optimized for Dynamic Text scaling, and the language is fine-tuned for naturalistic phrasing when read aloud with VoiceOver.

  • Quality data is crucial, so I also designed and tested a parallel experience for volunteer tipsters to add these clues in an intuitive and engaging way. I helped train local volunteer groups to seed clues for several complete bus routes.

  • “The biggest success of our engagement was the ability to do field testing and usability studies. The fact that we could work with Raizlabs closely to do those usability studies, to observe and understand the approach that the visually impaired person was using for orientation and navigation was huge.”

    LUIZA AGUIAR—Director of Products, Perkins Solutions

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