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OnTheBus Brings the Usefulness of GPS to the Visually Impaired

GPS isn't that helpful if you can't see it. OnTheBus is trying to change that.

There's an app for everything, it seems—but the penetration of mobile technology into more and more realms of life isn't all that useful if you can't see the screen. A new Android app called OnTheBus is a guide for people who need to get around big cities with public transportation, but unlike other GPS programs, the app uses gesture and voice recognition to be especially helpful for people with "visual, hearing, or cognitive impairments."

A bevy of features make the app more accessible. There's voice recognition and highly detailed spoken instructions about which bus route to take, what bus stops you're passing along the way, how long the bus will take to arrive, and how to navigate from your bus stop to your final destination. Rather than typing out each individual letter of a street address, users can draw the letters on a touch pad with their finger, and the app will match it up with the likely destination. High-contrast and customizable color combinations make the system useful for those with color vision deficiencies, and for the blind, the touch screen is simplified enough so that a person who can't see it can still make inputs.

So far the app, available for download on Google Play, is set-up for use in Barcelona, Madrid, and Rome, and can be used by Spanish, Catalan, English and Italian speakers. Soon the service will expand to the Spanish cities Valencia and Zaragoza as well as Helsinki and Finland. While the app is currently in beta mode, the next editions will include features like assistance calling a cab, finding a pharmacy, or lcating social services. And the app intends to keep rolling out in new cities and languages.

Speak Spanish? Click through for a demo to get a better sense of how it works.

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