Submitted by: Empish J. Thomas, CVI’s Public Education Manager
Summer has officially arrived and people are on the move; heading off for vacation. Many make plans to travel to a warm, tropical destination or another sunny spot abroad. Still others might opt to venture close to home with a staycation--visiting local museums, or historical sites. But regardless of the type of summer travels you pursue there are affordable and accessible travel apps to make your trip an enjoyable and successful one. The National Braille Press recently published a book called “Out and About: Our Favorite iOS Travel Apps” by Judy Dixon and Doug Wakefield. This small handy booklet selects 24 apps that are directly related to getting around. According to the authors, every app has been tested with all iPhone models from the 4s to the 6 Plus, as well as with iOS 7 and iOS 8.
The apps are listed by name, developer, price, size and category. There are apps listed for planes, trains and automobiles. There are even apps for walking GPS systems, maps, places to eat and even animal relief stations at airports. This book is a useful tool for that blind or visually impaired traveler that is truly ready to venture “out and about.” Below I have shared 5 of the apps; but to learn more you can purchase the book for $9 at the National Braille Press.
- Amtrak-This app is Amtrak's do-it-yourself trip planner and ticket purchasing application for iOS devices. While you may prefer to simply pick up the phone, stay on hold, and then make a reservation for a train trip by talking with a human, there are many advantages to using this app. No waiting on the phone, you can do your planning anytime day or night, and you can spend as long as you want exploring various routes and prices. Traveling by train—if you have the time—is much more hassle-free compared to say, going through airports. And there’s real food for sale! If you want to read a firsthand account of someone using the Amtrak app, read VaShaun Jones’ guest blog post titled “My Travels on Amtrak.”
- BlindSquare-BlindSquare is a GPS app that has been developed specifically for blind users. It uses data from Foursquare and Open Street Map to give you information about your surroundings. It can announce points of interest and intersections both nearby and as you travel. At any point, you can shake your phone and BlindSquare will tell you your current location and the direction and distance to the nearest intersection. BlindSquare has incorporated features from other apps, too. You can enter text with MBraille (a braille keyboard app) and Fleksy (a typing app). The Fleksy app does not have to be on your phone to use the Fleksy keyboard in BlindSquare. From the GPS Info screen or the Place Summary screen, BlindSquare can get transit information by launching Transit App if it is installed on your phone. You can get an estimate of how long it will take to get a car from Uber, the estimated fare, and launch Uber to order a car if the Uber app is installed on your phone. As of version 7.0.1, Where To?, an app that lists nearby points of interest, can send the coordinates of a selected place directly to BlindSquare.
- GateGuru: Airport Info and Flight Status-Originally this app was designed to provide information on the location of different facilities and services in the airport. Recent versions have added many more features, including flight information. A good feature of this app is the Amenities section. If you select your airport and double tap the Amenities button, you get a long list of places to get food and drink. Each one indicates what gate it is near. This is a great resource if you are unexpectedly stuck at a gate for several hours. You can discover exactly which food places are nearby. You can also easily search for an airport located in another city, allowing you to plan ahead when you travel. Say you have an upcoming trip with a long layover time between flights. Where are you going to find a place to grab a bite? GateGuru will give you that information before you leave the ground.
- Where to Go: A Directory of Airport Animal Relief Areas-While many airports now have dog relief areas, they can be difficult to locate. Whether you are traveling with a pet, an assist dog, or a guide dog, the "Where to Go" app literally tells you where to go for relief. Under the Dog Relief Area button, U.S. airports are listed, with short directions to the relief area at each airport. There are also links to U.S. Department of Transportation FAQs and updated Americans with Disabilities Act regulations about service animals, as well as other information.
- Uber-Uber is a San Francisco-based company that offers an alternative transportation service. What makes Uber different from a regular taxi company is that each driver is an independent contractor, although the Uber website claims all drivers go through a "rigorous screening." Uber is now available in most cities in the U.S. including Atlanta. You can read Adam Hinchliffe’s guest blog post titled “Uber is a Revolutionary Transportation Alternative” to get his point of view. Additionally, Uber is in 42 other countries. You begin by creating an account, either within the app or on their website. Uber does not accept cash; all payments are with a credit card or PayPal. All requests are done through the app and you cannot make reservations in advance. If you want, you can establish a tip percentage in your account, which will automatically be charged with your fare and given to the driver. Uber has lots of promotions. At the time you sign up, after your first trip, you will receive a promo code to give to your friends. Every time one of your friends signs up for Uber using your promo code, both of you get a free ride. Yes, there is such a thing.
Now, you have a sampling of the variety of accessible travel apps that are available for people with vision loss. Hopefully this information will inspire and motivate you to get up and get moving this summer. Whether it is for a lengthy out-of-town vacation or just a short jaunt around the neighborhood, you can easily have the tools you need to be more mobile. So, do you use travel apps? If so which ones do you find the most helpful? Share your thoughts and suggestions on travel apps by commenting below.