In my call for contributions, I noted my particular interest in a few subjects, one of which was travel. This letter, from a vision impaired man, contains some great tips and observations drawn from his personal experience.
Travel is one of the biggest challenges I personally face as someone who has been living independently for almost three years. Due to the fact I don’t drive and have poor vision, various aspects of travel are indeed harder for me.
- Getting to the city: Due to the fact I don’t live right near a train station, I must first walk to a bus stop, take the bus to the station and then take the train to the city. This takes around 90 minutes each way which indeed eats up a lot of time in my day when I work from the office. The biggest challenge here is the frequency of bus services. Fortunately, I have the ability to work from home most of the time which helps tremendously.
- Shopping: I’m very lucky that my family assists me with getting to shops or bringing me items that I need whether it be household amenities or food. However, I’m also lucky that I have a Woolworths store nearby that I can walk to in 15 minutes.
- Getting to other destinations: This is where it gets tricky. Clearly, some destinations are impossible to get to via public transport, but many are possible as long as you have plenty of time on your hands and have a navigation system handy when you arrive.
- Travelling interstate: I occasionally travel to Sydney for work and generally have found it relatively easy to find my way around the airport to my gate. However, the screens containing the gate numbers from different flights are a challenge to read. I often either take a photo of the screen with my phone and then zoom into the photo, or (assuming the itinerary is in my Gmail inbox) I use the Google Now app, which lists the gate of my flight on my phone.
Some more general observations:
- Traffic lights which don’t make a sound are one of the biggest problems for anyone with a vision impairment when crossing the street, particularly on a bright day, or when the road is wide and it’s hard to see the little man on the other side.
- Microsoft’s Bing Maps provides significantly better information about available public transport for a destination than Google Maps, so it’s definitely worth trying out if you’re planning to go somewhere new.
- In general, Google Maps is helpful when finding my way to a new destination. Occasionally when walking and surrounded by buildings, Google Maps seems to lose its accuracy which can make life a little challenging.
- Buses and Trams are (for me) the most difficult form of transport to use. Their destination signs can sometimes be unclear, they don’t announce stops and one must either be very familiar with the route taken in advance or use a navigation app to determine the best place to stop. I choose to walk instead of taking such transport if possible, although this is rarely practical.
- Uber is a significantly better service than Taxis in general, but it is also beneficial to those of us with a vision impairment. Uber allows me to contact my driver and explain exactly where I am. It also allows me to see the exact location of my car, and gives me some detail of what type of car will be arriving. I really hope that we see half price Uber rides in the future (similar to the Taxi program available) as their service offers true benefits to those of us who are vision impaired.
Thank you, Fotis, for your great and well-written advice, which I’m certain many readers will find extremely useful. Your letter highlights the ways in which technology has revolutionized travel for the vision impaired. But you also offer necessary reminders of areas which still need improvement.
In particular, I was struck by the way in which Uber’s customer experience includes features which could have been easily implemented by Taxi services, and which have measurable practical impacts on the safety and comfort of customers who are blind or vision impaired. It’s frustrating that in many cases, only competition will force these companies to introduce such features.
We would love to hear about your travel tips and experiences, whether it’s getting to work every day, or travelling interstate or internationally. Tell us which apps work best for you, how you tackle finding a difficult destination, and where you’ve run into trouble.