New NICE Bus App Helps Blind Passengers Navigate Transit Center

A new mobile app aims to help blind bus riders navigate one of Nassau’s busiest stations, the Rosa Parks Hempstead Transit Center.

The Nassau Inter-County Express, or NICE, has partnered with Sensible Innovations, based in Springfield, Ill., To develop the AWARE app, which is available as a free download through the Apple App Store or Google. Play.

Using Bluetooth electronic sensors, called “beacons,” installed throughout Rosa Parks Hempstead’s transit center, mobile devices can provide blind and visually impaired bus riders with “sound cues” that will let them know their location. and that of important landmarks, including bus docks. for specific routes, ticket machines, exits and restrooms, NICE officials said.

“AWARE is an easy to obtain and use public transportation tool that has been customized to help our visually impaired passengers make it easier to use the parks center,” said NICE CEO Michael Setzer.

Launched in 2015, the AWARE orientation app is already in use in five states, but the NICE partnership represents the first time it has been used in a transit environment. Sensible Innovations founder Rasha Said said the Hempstead bus station, through which 20,000 passengers travel daily, is the perfect backdrop for the technology.

“We get information through signs, but the visually impaired cannot read the signs. So what happens is they usually go to a public space and have to practice there. They memorize, ‘How many steps do I have to take to get there,’ ”Said explained. “The settings in a crowded area can change. So if you have something that tells you you’ve come to the right place. . . this makes their navigation easier and more convenient.

The app is the latest technology upgrade from Hempstead Station, which also introduced airport-style electronic displays last year showing arrival and departure times of buses.

The upgrades come as NICE grapples with rising costs and dwindling government funding. Last month, NICE cut seven routes, cut service on four more and took other cost-cutting measures, including laying off some workers and closing its Rockville Center bus depot.

Therése Aprile-Brzezinski, director of planning and public policy at the Long Island Center for Independent Living, a disability advocacy group based in Levittown, applauded NICE for finding ways to improve services for riders with disabilities, despite its financial pressures.

“People with disabilities are very willing to use technology to help them get around,” said Aprile-Brzezinski, adding that public transport is particularly essential for the blind “because driving is not an option”.

“I expect an app like this to really make a positive difference,” she added.