TransLink testing app-based accessibility tool for individuals with sight loss

Jan 9 2023, 9:03 pm

Metro Vancouver’s public transit authority is looking to further improve the accessibility and usability of the network for people with sight loss.

TransLink is set to test the new use of NaviLens, a smartphone app-based tool, for providing passengers with navigational audio and sensory cues to identify their bus stop and the exact point of pick-up. As well, the app provides real-time bus arrival times and service alerts and identifies relevant facilities at a location, such as elevators.

NaviLens is a proven accessibility tool used on other public transit systems in various capacities, such as in New York City, Liverpool, and Madrid.

Under TransLink’s pilot project, passengers can download the free app, available on both iOS and Android, and scan specialized coded decals on signs attached to the bus stop poles at three transit services.

The decals are similar to QR codes, but they use a different type of matrix for the ease of use for individuals with sight loss. Passengers can scan the colourful codes with their smartphone cameras from a distance of up to 14 metres away, in all lighting conditions, and without the need to focus on the decal. The app can also be used while the individual is moving.

The audio cues provided by the app are available in 34 languages.

TransLink NaviLens Accessible Navigation Project decal

Example of a NaviLens code decal on a bus stop sign. (TransLink)

TransLink NaviLens Accessible Navigation Project decal

Example of a NaviLens code decal on a bus stop sign. (TransLink)

The pilot project has installed a total of 16 NaviLens codes at three locations, including 10 bus bays at SkyTrain New Westminster Station, four bus stops near the Canadian National Institute For The Blind office (intersection of 6th Street and 6th Avenue) in New Westminster, and two bus stops near the Vancouver Community College campus on East Broadway (intersection of East Broadway and Glen Drive) in Vancouver.

According to TransLink, this is the first time the NaviLens wayfinding technology is being used in Canada.

“We’re aiming to create a more inclusive experience and empower our riders to navigate the transit system with ease and safety,” said TransLink CEO Kevin Quinn in a statement. “These types of innovative projects demonstrate our commitment to improving accessibility for all customers throughout the region.”

The NaviLens pilot project will run over six months between February and August 2023. If deemed successful, it could be implemented and expanded onto the system on a permanent basis.

In 2022, TransLink also began the process of installing braille signage on all 8,400 bus stops across Metro Vancouver and tactile walking surface indicators on the sidewalks of every bus stop on TransLink-owned and leased property. Both the braille signage and walking surface indicators will cost about $7 million to install.

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