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Free navigation help is on the way for visually impaired Sydney train commuters

7 August 2020 at 5:38 pm
Luke Michael
The service is already freely available at Sydney Airport  

Luke Michael | 7 August 2020 at 5:38 pm


Free navigation help is on the way for visually impaired Sydney train commuters
7 August 2020 at 5:38 pm

The service is already freely available at Sydney Airport  

Sydney train commuters who are blind or low vision will temporarily have free access to a navigation service to help them get around the city’s stations, with advocates now pushing to make the change permanent.

Aira is a service that connects blind and low vision people to highly trained, remotely-located agents through a smartphone app that uses a phone’s camera.

It can be used for a range of activities such as navigation, computer issues, or help identifying food or drinks.

After the company ran a competition offering free Aira access to one business or location for the rest of 2020, disability advocates Graeme Innes AM and Susan Thompson led a campaign for the four main train stations in Sydney – Central, Town Hall, Wynyard and Circular Quay – to be selected.

The duo was successful, not only winning free access for those locations, but for all Sydney stations.

Innes, who is the former Australian disability discrimination commissioner, told Pro Bono News that this means as of Monday, people with disability will not have to pay for the minutes of agent time they use for the rest of the year at a station.  

He said this would be extremely useful for blind or low vision Sydney commuters.

“Railway stations are noisy, they’re often big open spaces, and often cluttered with food stalls and turnstiles and various other bits and pieces,” Innes said. 

“They’re quite tricky areas for a person using a cane or a guide dog to navigate through and it’s great they’re now free Aira access sites.

“Agents can give people assistance to find their way. They can read signs, they can direct people around objects. They can warn people about social distancing and they can help buy a ticket or find the right platform.”

Advocates are now pushing for free access to be made permanent across Sydney’s train network.

Innes points out that this is already the case at Sydney Airport, which entered into a partnership with Aira last year to offer free support for people when navigating the terminals.

He said he will be encouraging people who are blind or low vision to make use of the free service at Sydney train stations, to make it clear to management how beneficial Aira is.

“Our hope is that Sydney Trains will see that benefit and will make it an additional service in their stations,” he said. 

“If we get these sites up and running and get Sydney Trains on board, we can then expand it out to other transport areas and hopefully to other places like shopping centres as well.”  

A Sydney Trains spokesperson told Pro Bono News it would be monitoring how commuters respond to the service.                         

“Sydney Trains is always looking for ways to make our stations easier to navigate for people with accessibility requirements,” they said. 

“[We] will be contacting the company to further understand what is involved in this technology.”

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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