Blind World Magazine

Talking signs to help the blind.




Seattle Post Intelligencer, WA, USA.
Friday, September 08, 2006.




Imagine trying to catch a bus or a train when you can't see it.


Using a $1.9 million federal grant, Sound Transit next year will begin installing a system that can help. It is expected to be completed within two years.


Sound Transit, which operates commuter buses and trains and is building a regional light rail system, will put in place a "talking sign" system to direct blind and sight-impaired people to transit stops and to elevators and stairs in transit centers, the agency announced Thursday.


Blind transit riders pushed for the system.


To get through a transit system, "blind people need signs every bit as much as sighted people," said Marlaina Leiberg of Burien, who is blind.


The system uses wireless transponders in transit stations that emit signals, which are decoded with a hand-held device about the size of a cigarette pack. The signal is a voice that tells the holder where he or she is -- near steps leading to a train platform, for example -- and broadcasts each location as the user approaches it with the handset scanner.


The system's range allows passengers to reach their destinations, though they will need to negotiate further on their own to get aboard and ride.


On Thursday, during a Sound Transit demonstration, Rebecca Bell, who has no sight in one eye and limited vision in the other, tested the system at the International District Station of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. She waved the hand-held scanner, and a female voice directed her to "elevator down to Bay C South and Bay D east to I-90."


"I know I'm at the tunnel, and I know at the elevators and the stairs," Bell said.


She acknowledged that the system isn't always audible in noisy areas, and it still requires the user to select among multiple signs and get to the boarding spot.


"It's not a total thing. You still have to use all your skills. It's not going to tell you exactly where to go, but it's a great help," she said.


Sound Transit began experimenting with the system three years ago, and its Citizens Accessibility Advisory Panel began pushing for it. With the recently received $1.9 million grant, Sound Transit can install guidance hardware at six transit centers, three Sound commuter rail systems and the Tacoma Link light rail line.


Project manager Michael Miller said the three-phase installation will begin early next year and should to be done by spring 2008.


P-I reporter Larry Lange can be reached at 206-448-8313 or larrylange@seattlepi.com.



http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/transportation/284337_blind08.html




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