How technology can make travel easier for visually-impaired customers
“I just type in the bus number and the street I want; it’s absolutely brilliant”
James Logan has been using Lothian Buses all of his life, recalling childhood journeys to school and to meet friends. He now uses our services at least a dozen times a week.
James has been blind since his early twenties. For many it would feel like the end of the life they once knew, but for James it was to be the beginning.
As a frequent customer on our buses, James is well placed to comment on the accessibility of Lothian’s services.
“On the issue of accessibility, your buses are absolutely perfect for me as a blind man,” he says.
James has been using an app that he and his friends use to help him communicate with the public, mainly bus drivers, during the global pandemic. When face coverings became mandatory on buses across Scotland, James discovered he was at a disadvantage speaking to others because the masks would muffle their voices.
“I contacted Lothian and asked if it would be ok to use the app while boarding the bus, to avoid getting too close to the drivers when getting on board,” he says. “Initially it was a handwriting app, and although my writing was mostly legible, I hadn’t written for about 40 years.
“So, I started using Banner Onboard instead, which has a keyboard allowing me to type the name of the street I wanted on my phone. It’s absolutely brilliant.”
As the bus approaches the stop, all James has to do is type in the number of bus he’s waiting on, and his destination. Once he shows it to the driver, he will learn if it’s his bus and he then gets on.
James is adamant of the app’s success, and says it is even helping the drivers as well as himself as a blind person.
“I’m on the buses every day, so it a big sample size we’re talking about,” explains James. “I’ve never experienced any hassle using it, and a driver stopped me last week and said he knew exactly where I was going because I’d used the app with him previously.”
Even before using the app, James confidently states he’s never had an issue using the buses. He puts this down to his positive mindset when it comes to communicating with others, and the courteous nature of Lothian’s drivers.
“I’d give the drivers ten out of ten. They’re absolutely tremendous. Some of the guys are perfect. I always get their name when I get off the bus to thank them personally,” he says.
“They tell me the app is favourable for them too. I have nothing but immense respect for them.”
James believes the app would help drivers, as he feels they have a tough enough job as it is navigating their way through the busy roads without having to remember to notify someone when the bus stops at a specific destination.
“The drivers would clearly benefit because they could just get on with their job. It’s a layer of comfort for both user and driver as we’re keeping our distance too, and its clearly legible.”
It’s not only the app that helps James get from A to B onboard our services. He also uses total memory recall – a skill he learned from the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), which has served him tremendously well since he lost his sight.
What follows here is an impressive explanation from James on how he uses this skill to navigate while onboard the bus:
“I go on the same journey, more often than not, that lasts 40 minutes. If I get the seat I’m aiming for at the front of the bus, I’m as good as there before the bus has left my stop. I just put on my headphones and that’s it. I’m going to Stockbridge, and for a blind person that journey is absolutely heaven.
“When the bus goes along George Street and turns right to go down to Stockbridge, it’s all cobbles until I get off. So, I know when the bus gets off the cobbles that my stop is next. That’s better than any landmark to me because pointing out a landmark isn’t any good to a blind person.
“I’m fortunate because I did have sight, I’ve seen Edinburgh before so I know what the city looks like, and I can place myself anywhere in the city at any time.
“Coming back the way from Stockbridge, there’s a big long turn right before my stop, so when the bus straightens up again, its my stop next. There’s two guaranteed certainties on that journey which means I’ll never miss my stop.”
While it may seem trivial using a simple memory exercise to remember when the bus encounters cobbles, or a long turn as an indicator for when to get off the bus, it is mightily impressive for James to have lost complete use of one sense, but train the others to the extent that an unsighted journey on the bus is second nature to him.
When he makes different journeys, as he did to experiment further with his app, his memory recall kicks in and he feels confident in making the journey again once he’s finished.
“I believe when you’re on the bus, as a blind person, a disabled or able-bodied person, you have to work as a unit alone,” he says. “You can’t just rely on the driver to remember where you’re getting off. Nearly always they do remember, which is a credit to them however.”
It’s this positive mantra that James believes makes travelling for him second nature. He is of the belief that positive communication between himself and others is key to making the bus an accessible, safe place.
James also says that smartphones are a major asset for the visually impaired. He teaches a group at the RNIB on how to use the devices to make life easier. Using the Banner onboard app is one of the first things James teaches his group, and he says that once people learn how to use that, it adds a layer of comfort and increases confidence in the user.
He has only ever encountered one negative experience while travelling on a bus, which he modestly puts down to his own eagerness to get on the bus and get seated.
“The only negative thing to happen to me on a bus was my fault, when I accidently sat on a woman who was in the priority seat! I used my cane to guide me to the seat and when I went to sit down I heard a scream, so I jumped back up,” he recalls.
“The lady said she didn’t see me get on, and of course I didn’t see her sitting there. She must’ve been otherwise occupied and I didn’t really give her a chance to vacate the seat!”
What’s obvious when listening to James is his eagerness to help others in similar circumstances to him. His journey to help others is inspiring, and certainly worth remembering.
Our thanks go to James for sharing his experiences with us.
Lothian remains committed to providing an efficient, world class bus service for the people of Edinburgh and the Lothians. Within that commitment, we reiterate that our buses are accessible for everyone. We would like to remind customers that not all disabilities are visible, and for a variety of reasons some of our customers cannot wear a face mask during their essential journey. Please be kind and considerate while on our buses.
Download the Banner on Board app from the Apple Store to use on your iPhone or iPad.
Thistle Assistance is an initiative to help you feel safer and more comfortable when using public transport. You may prefer more time to get to your seat, or you may like your driver to speak more slowly and clearly. Thistle Assistance’s card and app let transport staff know in an easy and subtle way what extra support you’d like. Visit the Thistle Assistance website to find out more.
To learn more about the RNIB, visit their website.