MBTA: a Global Model of Accessible Public Transportation

MBTA: a Global Model of Accessible Public Transportation

MBTA: a Global Model of Accessible Public Transportation

 

With 1,330,200 riders per day, including 30 to 40% who have disabilities or restricted mobility, the MBTA has long been committed to improving the accessibility of public transit in the Greater Boston. Over the last decade, 50 new station elevators and 1,000 accessible buses have been added. But access is still in motion. In May 2020, the Department of System-Wide Accessibility (SWA) released its latest roundup of current MBTA access initiatives. This report covers many topics ranging from infrastructure to vehicles, customer communication and employee training. Let’s review these projects that aim to make the MBTA transit system a global model of accessible public transportation.

 

Accessibility Improvements for Subway Stations

 

Although most of the MBTA subway stations have been built before wheelchair access was a requirement under the American with Disabilities Act of 1990, many of them have been renovated to be made accessible: all stations on the Orange Line, all but one on the Blue Line and the Ashmont–Mattapan High-Speed Line. Since August 2019, when the renovated Wollaston Station reopened, the red line is now 100% accessible as well.

Most of the underground portion of the Green Line is accessible. However, many surface stations on this line will be made ADA compliant with:

⊗ Raised platforms

⊗ Detectable warnings,

⊗ Benches

⊗ Elevators

⊗ New escalators.

Improvements must also be made to the paths of travel leading to the platforms: repairing defects on sidewalks, ramps, stairways, etc. Everything needs to be taken into account when developing an accessible public transportation!

Other accessibility improvements in multiple locations across the system are planned for next years.

Wayfinding signage will be gradually replaced at the “Top 10” stations to make it clear and consistent and bring them into full compliance with ADA / MAAB regulations, LEP standards, and internal wayfinding requirements.

Automated door openers will be installed on at least one entrance to each subway station.

For customers who have difficulty reaching and interacting with the fare gates, the MBTA is working on a solution that enables them to pay their fare and open the fare gate without physically tapping their card.

 

Ongoing Projects for 100% Accessible Commuter Rail Stations

 

In 2020, 110 out of 142 MBTA Commuter Rail stations are accessible. 6 lines are fully accessible. Renovations, rebuilding projects and relocations are planned to reach a 100% accessibility.

According to the SWA report, 8 commuter rail stations are currently being renovated, repaired or upgraded to become ADA compliant with:

⊗ New compliant mini-highs,

⊗ New accessible routes,

⊗ New accessible parking,

⊗ High-level platforms,

⊗ Elevators and ramps,

⊗ Detectable warning panels.

The existing inaccessible Chelsea Commuter Rail Station will even be relocated to become accessible. Work is now under way and should be completed in fall 2022.

Many projects are running to standardize accessibility amenities such as bridge plates, mini-highs or detectable warning surfaces to the greatest extent feasible.

 

Upgrading Elevators and Escalators

 

Over the last decade, 50 new elevators have been installed. New constructions and replacements are underway or scheduled for next years. The MBTA will develop a system-wide elevator and escalator replacement plan to inventory existing units, adjust maintenance contracts, determine at what rate units must be replaced and remove barriers to replacing escalators and elevators quickly and efficiently.

The MBTA understands the importance of the cleanliness of elevators for a good customer experience. This aspect is essential for people with disabilities. The first step consisted in identifying key elements that have an impact on elevator cleanliness. Some decisions were made subsequently, such as implementing new cleaning contract, replacing flooring materials, assign Transit Ambassadors to inspect elevators and pilot new technology solutions like moisture identification devices.

Traveler information is an essential complement to physical accessibility. People with disabilities need to anticipate their travels and know in advance the obstacles they may encounter. That’s why the MBTA plans to install digital screens at elevators that provide real-time elevator information and alternative service options. Digital display screens will gradually replace printed flyers that are currently used.

 

Improvements and Reconstructions for Accessible Bus Stops

 

100% of MBTA buses themselves are accessible. In 2017, the MBTA surveyed all 7,690 bus stops for accessibility barriers. Bus stops were categorized as critical, high, medium, and low priority according to the accessibility level and numbers of barriers identified.

273 of them were identified as critical. These stops were so inaccessible that rollator and wheelchair users must get onboard and exit in the street, causing highly dangerous situations. The MBTA decided to close 170 of these “critical” bus stops and construct new ones. 70 have been completed to date and others are in construction or under design to be reconstructed in the next years.

844 bus stops were classified as “high priority” because of accessibility barriers such as a sloped landing pad, narrow sidewalk, lack of a curb, or unusable curb. Three design and engineering firms worked with the MBTA’s Service Planning Department to analyze situations and schedule access improvements. Roughly 100 “high priority” stops will be reconstructed by the end of 2020.

Regarding the update of bus shelters and amenities, the MBTA has launched a Request for Responses (RFR), the technical specifications of which were written in close coordination with the department of system-wide accessibility (SWA).

 

New Accessible Vehicles on the Subway

 

The MBTA is currently deploying new vehicles on Red, Orange and Green Lines. These vehicles feature accessibility improvements such as wider doors, seating areas for wheeled mobility device users, updated PA/VMS systems for better voice and text announcements. In addition, signage for priority seats is gradually being installed in the existing subway cars. The MBTA also pilots a new securement system in buses which allows wheelchair users to secure themselves independently.

 

Making Traveler Information both Audible and Visible

 

People who are blind or have low vision have difficulty accessing written information while people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing cannot understand audio information. In all cases, making information visible and audible benefits all users, whether or not they have a disability. The Customer Technology Department (CTD) and SWA will develop a policy that defines when, and by what means, digital signage must have an audible component as well as when information that is broadcast audibly must have a visual component.

As part of a digital display screen roll-out, the MBTA aims at developing an app for making the screens’ text-based information available audibly via a smartphone application. The development of the application was paused following discussions showing that blind and low-vision people were not ready to accept an application for that functionality alone. Further discussions are underway to add other useful functionalities. More generally, the MBTA is looking for ways that technology can help them make it easier for riders with disabilities to use the T.

 

Accessibility Training for Staff Members

 

Staff training is central in the department of system-wide accessibility strategy to ensure that travelers with disabilities have the best customer experience. SWA has developed a certification program which includes classroom and hands-on material, as well as videos documenting first-person perspectives from customers with disabilities. These programs are developed for bus and subway operations, but also for Transit Ambassadors, Transit Police Officers and Senior Leadership. Video productions have been delayed due to safety precautions related to COVID-19 but will resume as soon as possible.

 

New Interface for Customer Communication

 

Accessibility is always in progress and customers are in the best position to indicate accessibility barriers. The MBTA will finalize enhanced guidelines for tracking and resolving accessibility complaints. Additionally, a new module within the MBTA’s complaint database will be created to facilitate information-sharing and data analysis internally. The existing portal for accessibility complaints has already shown positive results. It facilitates collaboration and information sharing between departments and reduces the amount of time necessary to solve a complaint.

The MBTA also developed initiatives to notify customers of upcoming works. That’s the objective of the public engagement plan for seniors and people with disabilities.

The accessibility policy also involves information and awareness-raising of the general public. The MBTA plans marketing campaigns to spread the message that access benefits all customers – seniors, parents, students, commuters, tourists, and countless other customers who travel each day.

Developing an accessible public transportation represents a huge job for the city of Boston including infrastructure, vehicles and equipment. But all this would be small without staff training, traveler information and communication between departments. The MBTA maintains a massive data base on its website, which may be a source of inspiration for many transport authorities around the world.

 

Discover what other cities have been implemented to provide an accessible public transportation to all types of users: 

Subway Accessibility: London Goes Above and Beyond for its Users with Disabilities 

The Montreal Metro on the Way to Universal Accessibility

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In Boston, over the last decade, 50 new station elevators and 1,000 accessible buses have been added. But access is still in motion.

writer

Lise Wagner

Lise Wagner

Accessibility Expert

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The French leading company

on the accessibility market.

For more than 25 years, we have been developing architectural access solutions for buildings and streets. Everyday, we rethink today’s cities to transform them in smart cities accessible to everyone.

By creating solutions ever more tailored to the needs of people with disabilities, we push the limits, constantly improve the urban life and make the cities more enjoyable for the growing majority.

9 Must-Have Apps for People with Physical Disabilities in 2020

9 Must-Have Apps for People with Physical Disabilities in 2020

9 Must-Have Apps for People with Physical Disabilities in 2020

 

For people with physical disabilities, getting around in their everyday lives can be extremely difficult. Indeed, for wheelchair users a lot of obstacles can turn their trip into a nightmare like curbs that aren’t lowered or buildings with narrow entrances. They need to find business places, parking spots or even restrooms that are easily accessible for them. In the United States, there are approximately 2.7 million people who use a wheelchair. How can they navigate their way in the city and fully enjoy it?

Luckily, smartphones and apps in particular have made their lives better as it’s the case for deaf and hard of hearing people. Several apps are available that help them be more autonomous and more serene in their trips. Some were even created especially for people with poor dexterity or with reduced use of their upper limbs so that they can use their phones without any struggle. 

Let’s take a look at 9 free apps for people with mobility impairments that are entirely at their service!

Google Maps

One of the most used apps for GPS navigation is without doubt Google Maps. It offers street maps, street views, aerial photography and satellite imagery to visualize any place. It also gives information on traffic and on public transportation and plans your route according to the mode of travel (by foot, driving).

Thanks to the street views, the users can zoom in every part of a street to see if the curbs are lowered, an essential point for people in wheelchairs who want to get around in the city.

The app can be extremely helpful for wheelchair users with several features especially designed for them since it can show the exact location of the elevators and ramps that are laid in the city. They just need to select the “wheelchair accessible” option when they’re planning their route. 

If they want to use public transportation, Google Maps can even inform them on which modes of transport would best suit them.

The very new “accessible places” feature provides all the information concerning the layout of the premises wheelchair users need to know: entrance, parking spots, restrooms, seating arrangements… Whether they want to shop or eat at a restaurant, people with mobility impairment can easily find places accessible for them.

Available on both Android and iOS

 

Wheelmap

Another app that focuses on finding all the accessible places is Wheelmap. Not only does it map all the accessible places (restaurants, cafés, boutiques…) all over the world but it’s supplied by users. People with physical disabilities collect all the data necessary and transmit it to Wheelmap: they can upload images and leave comments. Thus sharing their experience with others who go through the same obstacles, they are in control of their environment. 

Wheelmap even gathers a community and organizes events for fellow users to join.

Plus, the app can be set in 32 languages. 

Available on both Android and iOS

AccessNow

A similar app to Wheelmap, AccessNow maps and locates several types of accessible places all around the world: restaurants, hotels, shops… The users can add information that can be rated by all.

Available on both Android and iOS

WheelMate

Focusing on locating only parking spots and restrooms, WheelMate also depends on information given by its users whether by adding new places or by rating them. 

More than 35 000 locations are mapped across 45 countries.

Available on both Android and iOS

FuelService

Although this app can only be used in the United Kingdom, it’s extremely innovative and helpful for disabled drivers to find a gas station with attendants who can help refueling their car. Thanks to this app, drivers who use wheelchairs can contact attendants to tell them they’re on their way. Attendants are then notified once the drivers arrive. The app also tells the drivers how many minutes they need to wait before being served.

Thus a task that can be challenging for a driver in a wheelchair can easily be done thanks to fuelService.

Available on both Android and iOS

 

IFTTT

Even though this app wasn’t designed for people with physical disabilities in particular, it can apply to them since its goal is to simplify the tasks of our everyday lives by connecting your different apps together. It even works with social networks.

Over 600 apps can be connected to IFTTT creating various combinations called “applets”. Thus, different tasks that people with poor dexterity struggle with can be automatically done such as set the home thermostat at the ideal temperature, read an email aloud, control everything at home with voice and Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant…

Setting all the necessary applets enables people with reduced dexterity to control every single task. They’re the ones who control everything thus making the app apply to their lives. 

Available on both Android and iOS

Google Assistant 

As previously mentioned, Google Assistant is activated by voice. People with reduced dexterity can use it to control their phones and ask them to call or text someone, send an email, set up alarms… 

Available on both Android and iOS

Google Voice Access

This app even goes further since it was especially created for people with reduced dexterity who can struggle to manipulate their phones. 

This accessibility service enables users to ask basic commands such as sending a text and address commands that directly involve what’s on the screen. The user doesn’t need to touch his phone to click or to scroll. Every task can be hands-free and easily operated by voice commands.

Available on Android

AssistiveTouch

A feature that can be set to help users to use their phones without having to use their fingers to access functions on their phones. 

Depending on their dexterity capacity, users can set AssistiveTouch to customize their actions. They can choose to do a single tap, a double tap or a long press. It’s even possible to create new gestures thus adapting more precisely the feature to the dexterity capacity of the user. The feature can record any movement the user wants to perform.

Available on both Android and iOS

Thanks to these apps and features, people with physical disabilities gain more autonomy and independence. Today technology rimes with accessibility for all. Clearly, it leaves no one behind and moves forward to meet the needs of everybody.

 

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Thanks to these apps and features, people with physical disabilities gain more autonomy and independence. Today technology rimes with accessibility for all.

writer

Carole Martinez

Carole Martinez

Content Manager

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powered by okeenea

The French leading company

on the accessibility market.

For more than 25 years, we have been developing architectural access solutions for buildings and streets. Everyday, we rethink today’s cities to transform them in smart cities accessible to everyone.

By creating solutions ever more tailored to the needs of people with disabilities, we push the limits, constantly improve the urban life and make the cities more enjoyable for the growing majority.

Everything You Have Always Wanted to Know on Braille Mysterious Writing

Everything You Have Always Wanted to Know on Braille Mysterious Writing

Everything You Have Always Wanted to Know on Braille Mysterious Writing

 

On elevators, medicine boxes, descriptions in museums or door signs…, you’ve probably noticed those small raised dots. You already know they’re for blind people but do you know how they work? Let us guide you through it!

Braille, the writing and reading tactile system with raised dots used by visually impaired people, exists since 1829. Its inventor, Louis Braille, a French blind man, created this tactile alphabet in order to be able to read and write, thus gaining access to education like everybody else. Braille represents an essential tool for a visually impaired person to learn and consequently be included in society. Even though braille has evolved, the 1829 system still constitutes the reading basis for blind and visually impaired people. Let’s go back in time to discover its creation and its use in today’s society!

Systems used before Braille

As soon as the 17th century, it has been understood that the sense of touch for blind and visually impaired people was to be exploited to teach them how to read. The idea of touching embossed paper came from Italian Jesuit Francesco Lana de Terzi with its eponymous system in 1670. The Lana system was composed of lines and raised dots on thick paper based on a three-by-three grid containing the alphabet letters. One just needed to learn the specificities of this grid to learn this writing system.

In the following century, French man of letters Valentin Haüy made education for blind and visually impaired people really possible. He had special embossed and movable characters made so that students could touch and read what was under their fingers. This raised letters method was put into practice at the Royal Institution of Blind Children, now called the National Institute for the Young Blind, a school opened by Valentin Haüy in Paris in 1785. The Valentin Haüy Association that also emerged still continues to promote Braille.

Although the two previous systems were specifically designed to meet the needs of blind and visually impaired people, 1808-1809 code by French Charles Barbier de la Serre was first created for army officers so that they could write and transmit messages in the dark. Called “night writing”, this system was based on sounds and consisted of raised dots on a grid. In 1819, Barbier perfected it to present it at the Royal Institution of Blind Children.

Louis Braille, at the time a student of the school, perceived the system potential but also its limits since it didn’t take into account the words spelling but only their pronunciation. He decided to improve Barbier system himself seeing that Barbier didn’t agree with his suggestions. He then created a code still used today and lent it his name: Braille.

What is Braille?

Louis Braille kept the basic principles of Barbier system, that is to say the encoding and the raised dots, but reviewed two elements:

The number of dots went from 12 to 6.

⊗ He opted for the coding of Latin typographic signs (letters, punctuation, musical notes).

Where a non-visually impaired person sees an indecipherable, crypted and almost extra-terrestrial language, a visually impaired person perceives a distinct language, a code they decipher and master to read and to learn. We tend to forget it but Braille is indeed a code! Continuing with an encoding enables to keep a system that’s easy to learn: each character is set in a cell composed of raised dots. In a cell, the six dots are divided into two columns. The numbering of dots allows to know their position. Thus, each character has a very precise combination.

Braille is a universal language since it’s used by other Latin languages for basic letters but there are still elements that can differ according to the languages such as accented letters, symbols and punctuation signs.

Despite being a code, it still needs to render the meaning of the language used: consequently the meaning of the symbols isn’t the same according to the language. That is why Japanese, Korean and Cyrillic brailles have different particularities that set them aside from French Braille.  

Code developments

Gradually, the code has evolved and impacted other areas such as mathematics and music thus enabling blind and visually impaired people to develop skills and/or hobbies. Nevertheless, there are limits to mathematics Braille. Mathematics formulas can indeed be very long once transcribed into Braille and therefore complex to comprehend.

Seeing that the standard Braille and its 6 dots only permits having 64 combinations, some characters such as numbers or capital letters have to be coded onto 2 characters. When Braille moved to IT, the Braille cell thus gained 2 dots. Thanks to this IT Braille encoded on 8 dots, 256 combinations are then possible, which enables to transcribe all the new symbols of the digital era such as the at symbol into just one character.

A system that looks to the future

Today, visually impaired people can easily be connected to the Web and thus to the entire world same as any Internet user. Technology has evolved and serves them. It’s not just smartphones that enable them to gain a real autonomy. Thanks to the advanced progress, blind and visually impaired people can:

⊗ Read any document on the net thanks to a Braille transcription software. The text is automatically transcribed into Braille and can even be printed in Braille thanks to a special printer called braille embosser.

⊗ Access scanned Braille documents thanks to the National Library Service (NLS) and other digital libraries. 

Use a refreshable Braille display (or Braille terminal) on which a Braille keyboard is embedded. The dots can raise or lower depending on the characters. The onscreen text can directly be translated unto the refreshable Braille display.

Set up a speech synthesizer that reads aloud the onscreen text.

 ⊗ Use a screen reader software that transforms the onscreen text into a Braille page or into a read aloud text.

Looking into the history of Braille and its evolution, it’s easy to realize that Louis Braille has truly changed millions of people lives giving them access to an education, a fundamental right. He literally gave them the keys, well the code, so that they can live in a more inclusive world with real autonomy. His code enables blind and visually impaired people to read, write and learn just like any citizen and is used today to comply with the demands of the digital world. From 1829 to 2020, just a few clicks are enough…

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Braille represents an essential tool for a visually impaired person to learn and consequently be included in society. Even though braille has evolved, the 1829 system still constitutes the reading basis for blind and visually impaired people.

writer

Carole Martinez

Carole Martinez

Content Manager

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Get the latest news about accessibility and the Smart City.

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powered by okeenea

The French leading company

on the accessibility market.

For more than 25 years, we have been developing architectural access solutions for buildings and streets. Everyday, we rethink today’s cities to transform them in smart cities accessible to everyone.

By creating solutions ever more tailored to the needs of people with disabilities, we push the limits, constantly improve the urban life and make the cities more enjoyable for the growing majority.