New Technologies Map Mass Transit & More for The Blind

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Marc Sutton using a BART map designed for the blind.
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Have you ever been lost? What did you do?

You probably pulled out a map or looked at a street sign—just two of the many visual tools we have to orient ourselves. But what if you're blind? What navigational tools do you use?

If you're a rider of San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit System (BART), you may be relying on a new technology produced by LightHouse for the Blind and developed by The Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute and Joshua Miele. The audio navigation technology is called CHECK, and it's currently being tested on the BART.

Bryan Bashin, CEO of the San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind, explains that the technology for systems like CHECK to work are already in place in a number of areas, but they're not targeting themselves to the blind.

"I-beacons...are little coin-sized transmitters that are everywhere. They're going into the marketplace now because companies want to sell stuff to passersby. But the blind community has figured out that we can use these same technologies as markers and so we can know what stores are there, what turns are there."

Terminal 2 at San Francisco International airport is one of the places that's completely outfitted with i-beacons that Bashin has used in his own life.

"As I come off the gang plank at San Francisco International and walk into the airport, I know where the ATM is, the wine bar, the men's room, the electronic store, the baggage, all of that to an unprecedented level of detail," he says.

As navigation technologies for the blind continue to develop and be put into place in the Bay Area's public spaces, blind commuters like Marc Sutton are enjoying the chance to know their surroundings better. Thanks to CHECK, he says, "You can use these maps if you don't read braille ... and it, in some cases, can give you more information than the braille has room to tell you. You get a lot more information."

A photo of the BART map.
A photo of the BART map. ( Jillian Weinberger )
The Rockridge Platform BART Map
The Rockridge Platform BART Map ( Jillian Weinberger )
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