Improving the Public Transport System for the Visually Impaired
I was waiting for a bus one day and I noticed a blind man asking another passenger to inform him when a certain bus number arrives. The passenger agreed to help and replied with a simple “Ok!”. A few minutes later, I looked up only to notice that the blind man was alone. It seems that the other passenger had boarded his own bus and didn’t inform the blind man. I proceeded to assist the blind man with his transportation woes, till he finally boarded his desired bus.
Taking inspiration from this episode, it formed the problem statement behind our latest project as part of our course in UXDI. We were interested to see how we can solve this issue, where the visually impaired can be self reliant.
We examined who would be the best governing body to implement this, and we made the decision that the Land Transport Authority would be the best outlet should our solution be successful.
In a nutshell, LTA is responsible for planning, operating, and maintaining Singapore’s land transport infrastructure and systems. Its vision is to create a people-centred land transport system, by meeting the diverse needs of the growing population and expanding economy.
Our problem statement states that LTA has made the transport system easy to navigate for most people. However, it still remains a challenge for people who are visually impaired. How can we improve the accessibility of transport facilities to make up for their visual handicap? So that they will feel more empowered to travel by themselves?
On this note, we were on a mission to speak to as many visually impaired people as possible. To learn about their personal pains on taking public transport, as well as what sort of technology is available for them to use.
We approached the following associations, but to no avail. There was either no response or our requested was denied due to the sheer volume of request that these associations must receive.
Nonetheless, we looked further and discovered a place called “Enabling Village” where we learnt about assistive devices that are available for the visually impaired.
Colin, who is a staff at the Enabling Village was most helpful with providing us with the information. He is not visually impaired, but his colleague is and shared with us that she has a similar issue of being stranded at a bus stop when she asked for assistance. This inspired us to really make this outcome more accessible.
We decided to approach the visually impaired on the streets to get first hand accounts of their experience with taking the public transport system in Singapore. We also performed an ethnography study, to observe some of behaviour when they are crossing the road.
Despite being able to only to secure less than 5 minutes of their time, we managed to discover some nuggets of gold, like an app called BlindSquare which is frequently used for navigation.
We continued to search through our network to see who we can speak to to gather more intelligence for our proposed solution.
We then found Marc. Marc is in in late 30s and has been diagnosed with retinal pigmentosa; in short, Marc is gradually losing his eyesight. He shared many insightful adventures of how he has adapted to his handicap to include falling down at MRT stations where it is hard to navigate, as well as how fiercely independent he is, where he taught himself how to use assistive devices.
Another notable mention of people we spoke to was Dr. Rafelina. She is based in Austin, Texas and is a facilitator at a Vocational Institute for the visually impaired. Being visually impaired herself, Dr. Rafelina also teaches newly visually impaired people on how to properly use the walking cane amongst other skills. We were suitably in awe when we found out that she uses the flow of traffic and the movement of people to navigate through busy streets and malls.
Researching what other devices are out there:
We also looked at other technology that is available, and to examine what features we can adopt in our own design:
Following our user interviews, we proceeded to perform our affinity mapping.
From here, we found out that our users shared the following same traits and essences:
- The are fiercely independent, only asking for help when they think is needed.
- They have an elephant memory, having to memorise a route they need to take daily.
- They are tech savvy, having been engaged in using apps to discover navigation.
- Lastly, they are hazard prone, being unable to see hazard that may be disguised or unaware of.
And this formed the basis of our persona.
Behaviour and Habits
- Commutes alone daily
- Memorises routes and makes use of apps
- Does not like to seek help
- Remains active by participating in running events
Goals & Needs
- To be self reliant when he is commuting.
- Being invited to a housewarming, Mike wants to get to the party independently.
- Journey Planner
- Bus Flagging System
- Navigation around unfamiliar places
- Hazard Alert
As a visual handicapped, Mike wants to make use of technologies to ease his commute experience so that he can reach his destination independently.
Mike’s Journey Map
And prioritised features accordingly:
The Proposed Solution
This video is a summary of the various features we have developed to answer the problem:
In developing the solution, we consistently returned to our research to ensure we are designing with the correct purpose in mind.
Feature 1: Service Design — Flagging of buses
“When I’m alone, I need help to flag bus. But it’s tough to get help during rush hours.”
1) Allow flagging of bus through kiosk or app
2) Provide visual feedbacks for bus drivers
3) Provide audio feedbacks
Feature 2: Journey Planner
“When I travel to a new place, I will google the bus stop and see what bus to take”.
- A Journey Planner that allows the user to plan and save a journey for future usage.
Feature 3: Indoor Navigation
“It’s hard to know the direction of of the MRT trains unless I’ve been there before”.
- Use of iBeacon to provide directions set through bluetooth.
Feature 4: Hazard Reporting
“I have fallen down the stairs before at the MRT stations”.
“I get angry when things are not replaced properly at home”.
- A hazard reporting system that users can voice record the hazard and will be set to LTA directly.
Service Design Heuristics Evaluation
- Braille wordings for MRT map
- 3D Tactile floor plan
- Public Awareness Banner
- Traffic Light Vibration
Being part of this project has made me more aware of the pains that the visually impaired must endure. That said, I admire their courage and their fierce independent to make it work for them even though they may be handicapped. It’s a new whole world in what may be in a world of darkness. However, that does not dimmer their spark as we have heard from all the inspiring stories. It is a lesson for all of us. A little humanity goes a long way. So the next a blind person asks you for help at a bus stop, what would you do?