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Monday, July 15, 2024

GTR trials app to improve assistance for blind and partially sighted passengers

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In a first for the UK’s railways, to further improve accessibility on the region’s rail network, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) is trialling the use of an app that connects blind and partially sighted people to a remote advisor who then uses the passenger’s smartphone camera to guide them quickly around railway stations, to a member of staff.

Passengers at Brighton, Stevenage, London Blackfriars and East Croydon can ask an advisor speaking on their phone to help them with anything from checking the departure board and locating a platform, to finding a member of staff, ticket machine or toilet.

GTR will cover the cost of the service in these four stations taking part in the trial*. The app is an established third-party app named Aira and can be downloaded on the Apple App and Google Play stores.

Regional groups of blind and partially sighted volunteers, known as Sight Loss Councils, funded by Thomas Pocklington Trust are supporting the roll-out.

A key priority for the councils is access to public transport, so everyone can travel independently and safely. This is because 65 per cent of blind and partially sighted respondents say access to public transport matters to them the most. This research formed part of the Thomas Pocklington Trust and Sight Loss Councils Listening Month campaign.

GTR’s Accessibility Lead, Carl Martin, said: “We want everyone to have the confidence to travel with us, no matter what their disability or need for assistance, so we’re always on the lookout for innovative ways to improve.

“All our staff are trained to assist our customers, whatever their needs. We hope this app can improve the support we already offer blind and partially sighted customers to put them in control of their journeys.”

London Sight Loss Council member and volunteer Vidya Nathan, whose vision is extremely restricted, said:“It is so important to make transport accessible for our blind and partially sighted community as we are heavily reliant on public transport for our daily life and to access social and work opportunities. Making transport accessible enables us to be more confident, safe, active and independent.”

On trialling the app at London Blackfriars on Monday (12 June), she added: “This could be life changing. It’s just that confidence boost knowing there’s someone on the end of the phone who won’t leave you until you are safe. They did get me where I wanted to go. They were patient and super helpful. It was very, very good.”

London Sight Loss Council member and volunteer Amrit Dhaliwal from Hounslow is totally blind. She used the app to be guided to the ticket office and the lift. She said: “It was absolutely amazing! For some this could be absolutely life changing, liberating.”

David Smith, Sight Loss Council Engagement Manager, said: “We believe everyone should be able to travel independently and safely, and live the lives they want to lead. We are proud of our ongoing work with transport providers to make this happen through developing new ways of working and trialling new apps.”

Image credit: GTR

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