Free App Designed to Provide Street-Crossing Information for Signalized Intersections That Lack Accessible Pedestrian Signals is Available

Date Posted: 09/01/2015

More and more accessible pedestrian signals (referred to as APS), which provide audible and vibrotactile information to pedestrians with visual impairments when the WALK signal is illuminated on a traffic light, have been appearing in cities across the United States and the developed world during the past decade. There were, for example, 99 intersections with such signals in New York City as of November 2014, 28 of which were equipped with APS in 2014 alone, according to the most recent APS program status report issued by the New York City Department of Transportation. For those signaled intersections that do not feature APS, a new smartphone "app" (application) has been devised to provide audible access to crossing lights in communities around the world. SeeLight uses open-access application programming interface (API) information—a set of routines, protocols, and tools for building software applications—to obtain data on crossing lights in any city in the world. This information is presented to users of the app as GPS tags on an interactive map. SeeLight's developers hope to one day "map every traffic light in the world."

The story of how SeeLight came to be developed leads back to Anna Chapman, a former spy for the Russian Federation's external intelligence agency, who pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy and was deported from the United States in 2010. "I became less selfish after I returned to Russia following my arrest and I had to do something that was not just for me," said Ms. Chapman during an interview promoting her nonprofit organization. She established The Right to a Smile Foundation to help children who are visually impaired in her hometown of Volgograd, previously known as Stalingrad, which is located on the Volga River in southern Russia. With the help of the All-Russia Association of the Blind, Ms. Chapman's foundation conducted interviews with people with vision loss and discovered that street crossings were a significant concern for this group in a country where dog guides are scarce. One of the foundation's first projects was to install APS in Volgograd. Ms. Chapman explained that Russia's "nightmare bureaucracy" caused delays with the project: "It took us over nine months of going from office to office to sort it all out. . . . If I hadn't known the governor of Volgograd, we would never have been able to do this. . . . We could only do eight sets of traffic lights in the end. . . ."

SeeLight, which is available as a free download from the iTunes store, provides spoken information in English or Russian on the distance between an individual and the closest signalized intersection, whether there is tactile pavement on the road to guide people with visual impairments, and how many seconds remain until the light changes (from green to red, for example). The app also has a "general mode" that is designed to be used by individuals who are not visually impaired. For more information, contact: Sergey Kovalev, executive director, The Right to a Smile Foundation; phone: +8-929-786-00-55; e-mail: bf-smile@yandex.ru; website: http://seelight.hungryboys.ru.[Information for this piece was taken from the September 3, 2015, PSFK article entitled "SeeLight app helps the blind navigate city streets through audible cues that instruct users on when to cross the road," by Lauren Kirkwood; the March 16, 2012, Sputnik News article, "Anna Chapman's right to a smile"; the May 2009 AccessWorld article, "Accessible pedestrian signals: San Francisco sets an example," by Lainey Feingold and Jessie Lorenz; and the Wikipedia entry, "Anna Chapman."]

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