NEW YORK - Riding the subway can be challenging for disabled riders, but the MTA’s first-ever accessible station lab in downtown Brooklyn hopes to make the system much easier to navigate, especially for visually impaired passengers like Bryan Velazquez.
Velazquez was born with retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), an eye disorder that primarily affects premature babies.
He lost most of his vision as an infant.
“If there’s someone who’s traveling for the first time, who is a new traveler in training, it’s great to have these guidelines to re-direct them to their location,” Velazquez says.
The MTA’s pilot program is testing out several new features including a system of tactile guideways, braille signage, and interactive subway maps.
It’s also experimenting with cell phone apps like “Navilens,” which provides sign information in audio, and “Aira,” which connects riders with professional visual interpreters.
“They selected this particular station because it’s not huge like Columbus Circle or Times Square, but it is larger… and you have to transfer to some lines by going to another part of the station,” Annalyn Courtney, Certified Mobility Specialist with VISIONS Services of the Blind and Visually Impaired says.
The MTA is also working to address other accessibility concerns for passengers that are hearing, mobility, or cognitively impaired.
For instance, less than 25% of the city’s subway stations are currently elevator accessible, but the MTA plans to add elevators at seventy stations within the next five years thanks to a 5.2 billion dollar investment in its new capital plan.
The pilot program runs through the end of January, but MTA officials say they hope to make the new features permanent as long as they receive enough positive feedback.