Milwaukee County tests innovative app to expand accessibility for blind and low vision MCTS Riders
Milwaukee County Transit System announced the launch of a pilot program that supports MCTS riders who are blind or low vision with increased access to public transportation on February 5.
Through Aira, an app available on any iOS or Android smartphone, users can receive free, one-on-one assistance riding the bus and navigating the more than 5,000 bus stops in Milwaukee County. The program was coordinated between Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) and the Milwaukee County Office for Persons with Disabilities (OPD).
“In Milwaukee County, we are driving towards equity and meeting the needs of our community, and that means building a transportation system that fully serves every rider,” said County Executive Chris Abele. “The launch of the Aira app enables both residents and visitors with visual disabilities to live more freely and safely throughout Milwaukee County.”
The Aira app is an interactive tool that enables riders with visual disabilities to connect with highly-trained professionals trained to help read signage, identify obstacles, identify bus stops and offer verbal step-by-step travel directions. The app, which is available at no cost to users thanks to this pilot program, uses a device’s camera and GPS signal to offer accurate real-time support and guidance.
“Aira is helping remove longstanding barriers to independence,” said Fran Musci, MCTS Director of Paratransit. “Riders who’ve tried the app say it’s making it easier for them to ride the bus. This expands their transportation options beyond the door-to-door van and taxi paratransit services.”
MCTS is the third transit agency in the United States, along with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in New York and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) in Boston, to take part in an Aira pilot program.
“OPD was proud to launch Aira at select Milwaukee County locations in 2019 and we’re even more excited to expand the service in 2020 to include MCTS buses and bus stops,” said Tim Ochnikowski, Director of the Milwaukee County Office for Persons with Disabilities. “Aira helps visitors just as much as it helps residents. Now someone who is blind or low vision can fly into the airport, get on a bus, and head out to experience and enjoy all that Milwaukee County has to offer.”
Aira is also available at 45 other locations across Milwaukee County – including Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport, the Milwaukee County Courthouse, the Marcia P. Coggs Human Services Center, the Vel R. Phillips Youth and Family Justice Center, the Milwaukee County Zoo and dozens of Milwaukee County Parks.
Once installed on an iOS or Android phone, it takes just minutes to create an account and get started. When speaking to an Aira agent, users should request the free Milwaukee County Transit System offer.
MCTS and its partners hosted several training sessions in the community for users who wanted to receive in-person assistance for setting up the app and learning how to use it.