New app will help blind navigate MBTA stations

Edward Tabor tapped his white cane in front of him as he recently made his way through Park Street Station, then quietly asked a woman he didn’t know for help.

After the stranger led him a few steps toward the turnstiles, Tabor, 23, told an MBTA employee where he wanted to go. Tabor then took the employee’s elbow as the man led him toward his destination, descending three flights of stairs toward the Alewife-bound Red Line train.

“Where do you want to end up? Front of the train? Back of the train?” the MBTA employee asked.

After decades of commuting, Jonathan Gale, 59, said he knows nearly every station on the MBTA’s subway lines.

But on a recent afternoon, Gale, who has been blind since birth, also needed help. He asked a stranger to point him in the right direction to his Green Line train.

This is what taking the subway is like for riders who are blind.

A new application being developed at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is meant to help visually impaired people navigate T stations on their own.

The MBTA has helped fund the creation of PERCEPT — an indoor navigation system that one day will allow users to make their way through a T station by listening to step-by-step directions on their smartphones, which lead them to electronic sensors or “tags” throughout the building.

Testing of the system is ongoing, but it is hoped that the application could be ready for use in the Arlington Station in early 2015. Once approved by the MBTA, the app would be free to users.

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