The app, called StopInfo, is integrated into a popular existing app
called OneBusAway that gives real time information on the location
of city buses. StopInfo adds details that help blind riders find the
“When a user wants detailed information about a transit stop, he or
she touches a button and the system displays details, such as where
the stop is in relation to street intersections, whether there is a
bench and trash can, what the shape of the sign pole is . . . This
information can be read out loud for blind users of the phone, using
VoiceOver mode,” explained Alan Borning in email to Reuters Health.
Borning is a professor at the University of Washington. His graduate
students created the new application.
While StopInfo sources most of its information from the King County
Metro database, it also relies on information from community users,
blind and otherwise. To make sure the information added by users is
correct, the app uses a voting system, where each submission counts
as a vote. To be verified, a submission must have at least three
votes and 75% of submissions must be in agreement.
StopInfo is freely available and runs on iOS (iPhone), Android, and
Windows Phone platforms, and also via SMS, interactive voice
response, and the Web.
It's been widely used, according to Caitlin Bonnar, one of the app's
She told Reuters Health by email that StopInfo “is accessed, on
average, around a thousand times a day since we launched in late
February, indicating that it is also used by the general population.
We have received around 1,300 information submissions for 845 unique
bus stops around Seattle since then.”
With StopInfo gaining in popularity, its creators recruited six
middle-aged users for a small study of how it affects the way blind
people travel. Three participants were completely blind; the others
had varying levels of usable vision. Four lived in Seattle suburbs,
while two lived in urban centers.
The results, which will be presented at the Association for
Computing Machinery’s annual conference in October and are reported
in the Association’s Assets '14 publication, show that StopInfo is
generally helpful for blind riders and can promote spontaneous and
The study lasted about five weeks, during which participants were
asked to fill out web forms with details of 10 to 20 trips they took
during that period.
The participants were already skilled at traveling independently and
using smartphones, and so the researchers note that they may not
reflect the general population.
Borning says participants, “found the system usable and the
information helpful . . . All participants said they would continue
using StopInfo after the study.”
He and his students were most interested in three elements:
usability, independence and safety. Independence was particularly
important, as this is a constant struggle for blind people and was
rated as very important by participants.
[to top of second column]
The results suggest that the app supports independence. Participants
said on 29 (38%) of their web forms that they would not normally
have attempted the trip they were taking and consulted StopInfo on
26 (89%) of these trips.
StopInfo did not significantly affect feelings of safety, however –
and the researchers fear users might feel vulnerable to mugging
while using their smartphones in public.
In on-foot audits, the researchers found that the app’s information
was 100% accurate in nearly all categories. Jeff Switzer, of the
King County Department of Transportation, told Reuters Health by
email that his department has worked with the creators “to put
measures in place that can monitor the system and bring any data
vandalism to their attention for follow-up and correction.”
Although its companion app, OneBusAway, operates in several cities
across the country, StopInfo is currently limited to the Seattle
area. Borning, who was also involved in creating OneBusAway, feels
that for now, StopInfo is best kept as a pilot program. It needs to
be evaluated over a longer period, he said, “to see how useful it is
for a larger number of people, to see whether we can sustain
participation in entering and verifying information, and to see how
well it fits with transit agency operations.”
Marion Hersh of the University of Glasgow in Scotland, who studies
assistive technology and disability but was not involved in the new
research, agrees. She emphasizes the importance of standardizing the
app across the transit systems of different cities so that blind
people can move between them easily. Ideally, the system would “work
at all bus stops preferably worldwide,” Hersh told Reuters Health by
Borning is optimistic about these kinds of tools. “We are in an
exciting time for supporting the independence of blind and low
vision people -- and people with disabilities more generally - using
off-the-shelf technology like smart phones,” he said.
ASSETS ‘14, August 18, 2014.
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.