SLCs trial smartphone app to improve assistance at stations
Sight Loss Councils (SLCs) are working with Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) to trial an app that connects blind and partially sighted people to a remote advisor to improve assistance in railway stations. The advisor then uses the passenger’s smartphone camera to guide them quickly around the station, to a member of staff.
Passengers at Brighton, Stevenage, London Blackfriars and East Croydon can now ask an advisor speaking to them 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 named Aira and can be downloaded on the Apple App and Google Play stores.
Sight Loss Councils
Our regional groups of blind and partially sighted volunteers, known as Sight Loss Councils, are supporting trials of the app.
A key priority for SLCs is access to public transport, so everyone can travel independently and safely. This is because 65 per cent of blind and partially sighted (BPS) respondents told SLCs that access to public transport mattered to them the most. This research formed part of the Thomas Pocklington Trust and Sight Loss Councils’ Listening Month campaign.
London and South West London SLC members with GTR’s accessibility improvement manager and Blackfriars’ railway station manager
Govia Thameslink Railway
GTR’s Accessibility Lead, Carl Martin, said about the trial:
“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.”
Sight Loss Council feedback
London Sight Loss Council member and volunteer Vidya said ahead of the trials:
“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 SLC member, Vidya, trialling the Aira app at London Blackfriars railway station
London Sight Loss Volunteer Amrit, who was guided to the ticket office and the lift during a trial at Blackfriars station, added:
“It was absolutely amazing! For some this could be absolutely life changing, liberating.”
East Sussex SLC member Linn said:
“As blind and partially sighted people, we rely heavily on public transport to access work, and medical and social appointments. Having good interconnecting public transport services is therefore vitally important, both to lead fulfilled lives, and to get around smoothly and safely from A to B.”
At the trial at Brighton railway station on Tuesday 13 June, Linn added:
“Using Aira at Brighton station highlighted to me what true independence can look like. I was very impressed with the way the agent took me to the ticket office and later to a ticket machine, and the detail in which they described my environment down to details such as cones on the floor or people coming towards me with suitcases. I can’t wait to use it more on my future travels.”
Linn, East Sussex SLC member, being guided by an Aira operator in Brighton train station
Bedfordshire Sight Loss Council volunteer, Paul, said at the Stevenage railway station trial on Monday 19 June:
“For me it’s complementing what I am already doing with my cane, finding the exact location of somewhere or navigating me through a very busy environment.”
He then explained how the app could lead him to a member of staff.
“The station staff are very well trained. It’s not just the assistance they offer but the way they provide it. They are very empowering. They will introduce themselves and ask what they can do to help, and they do it in a very polite and natural way.”
Bedfordshire SLC member, Paul, using the Aira app at Stevenage train station
David Smith, Sight Loss Council Engagement Manager, added:
“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.”
The Aira app that GTR is trialling at four of its major stations should make the railway even more accessible than it already is and could potentially open more doors for more people, promoting independent travel.
Carl Martin, Accessibility lead for GTR, with members of East Sussex SLC on the concourse at Brighton train station
*Govia Thameslink Railway is covering the cost of using the AIRA app for passengers at its four stations but data charges may apply depending on the customer’s mobile phone data plan.
Make Transport Accessible
Sight Loss Councils want to build a world where blind and partially sighted people have full access to the public transport they need to live the lives they want to lead. Our work focusses on raising awareness and demanding change at both local and national levels. We do this by working with local authorities, central government and transport operators.
Stay in the know
If you want to stay up to date with news from the Sight Loss Councils, sign up to our mailing list.
Publication date: 22 June 2023