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Research Report: Studying the Accessibility of the Bangalore Bus System for the Blind

I recently prepared a research report on our progress on the BMTC project so far. Sharing here.

Project Objective
To understand the accessibility issues faced by the blind while using the city bus system in Bangalore.

Research Overview 
As part of our research, we interviewed 4 blind people. We shadowed 5 blind people on different occasions. We have also interacted with the National Association for the Blind, Bangalore Office who facilitated some of these interviews. We also accompanied a group of blind people on a visit which was a part of their mobility training workshop.

Key Insights 
1.   Olfactory, Kinaesthetic and Audio Landmarks 

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This reliance on other senses for landmarks came up in many interviews and observations and though not directly related to the bus system, this has been the single biggest revelation to us from this project. When we started this project we could not imagine that the blind had a concept of landmarks.

 2. Biggest Problem: Busses do not stop exactly at the bus stop 
The two most difficult parts of the bus journey, as we understand today, are getting on to the right bus and getting off from the bus. These are particularly tough because busses do not stop exactly at the bus stop.

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On busy routes, there are multiple busses pulling up at the bus stop at any given time. While one bus pulls up right next to the bus stop, the others often stop short of, ahead of or away from the bus stop. For the blind this is probably the biggest pain point.
Getting On: The way blind people get onto the right bus here in Bangalore, is by waiting to hear a bus to pull up at the bus stop and then asking someone on the bus or someone at the bus stop if it will take them to their destination. When the bus pulls up ahead of or before the bus stop, the blind person, even if he/she realizes that the bus has reached, does not have enough time to reach it before it moves away. A bigger challenge is when the bus is away from the bus stop, it is not safe for them to try and reach the bus because there is often traffic in between the bus stop and the bus.
Getting off: As soon as a blind person gets off the bus, he needs to orient himself by finding a landmark whose location he is familiar with before he makes his way to the destination. If the bus does not stop at the bus stop, the blind person has a lot of trouble getting oriented to understand where he/ she is before they can move towards their destination. “Sometimes I end up spending 10-15 minutes just trying to find my orientation”. A particularly dangerous situation is when the person gets off from the bus when it has stopped away from the bus stop. An interviewee, when asked about a bad experience with the bus system, described a situation in which he unknowingly got off between two busses and they both started moving simultaneously.

 3.  Other Observations
a.  Social Reliance: There is a lot of reliance on people around them for getting around in an unfamiliar area, finding out which bus to take, on co-passengers to let them know when they have reached their destination etc.
b.  Braille signs do not work: Some cities have experimented with Braille timetables at bus stops. We found out that the blind are unwilling to touch any Braille signs at public places because they might be covered with spit stains from people who chew betel-nuts. 
c.  Low hanging branches and eye- level billboards: Since the blind use their stick to find their way around, they are unable to detect things which are at a certain height above the ground. I once saw a blind person bang his head into a low hanging tree branch at the Bangalore bus stand. 

Current Status and Future Direction
The project is still in the research phase. Based on what we know at this stage we are thinking of creating videos to sensitize bus drivers and conductors to the needs of the blind. We are also thinking about how we can use auditory, olfactory and kinaesthetic landmarks to give directions to the blind.I am using my blog to put all of the findings from our study in the open domain. (http://lukwhostalking.com/tag/blind)

[Credits: Arun Martin, Anupriya Gupta and Ishan Bhalla]

 

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