Transportation Apps: #2 of Julie Atkins Guides to the Best Apps for Vision Loss

BlindSquare logo: black background with blindsquare written in white braille dots and in print.
BlindSquare logo: black background with blindsquare written in white braille dots and in print.

Here are Julie’s recommendations  for apps that help you get around; on your feet, using a transit system or in a car…and how to know what is around you.

  On Your iPhone, Using Siri to Get Directions To Where You Want to Go 

The Maps app built into the iPhone provides turn-by-turn directions to your destination.  You just tell Siri, “Get directions to…” followed by an address, or the name of a place, such as   Michael’s Pizza on Franklin Boulevard,” or the name of one of your contacts (as long as you have the contact’s address saved in your phone) , and it will start guiding you there.  You don’t even have to know the name of the place you want to find—you could just say the type of place you want to find, such as, “What pizza places are around me?”  You can choose whether it gives you driving directions, walking directions, or transit directions.

Transit System Apps

Speaking of transit directions, look for apps in the App Store for your local transportation system (bus, paratransit, light rail, etc.). Where I live, the one for our bus system lets you plan your bus route to your destination.  The one for the light rail tells you when the next train comes at each station.  Just type in the name of your city as your search term in the App Store to see what is available, or type the name of your bus system if you want to be more specific.

Using Uber, the Cab System with Owner Drivers

A lot of visually impaired people are using Uber to get around within a city.  Uber is a driving service much like a cab service.  Each driver is self-employed and drives his or her own car.  The driver is supposed to arrive in four to nine minutes once you have placed the request through the Uber app.  Their fees are reported to be about 50 to 60% of the cost of a cab fare.  Payment is made directly from the app using your credit card or PayPal information, so no money is exchanged with the driver, not even a tip. Just be sure you let the driver know you are visually impaired and how to find you so he or she does not sit there waiting for you to come get in his or her car.  Uber is a free app.

The BlindSquare App.

If you are an independent traveler, or you like to have control over planning your route and finding places around you, I just can’t say enough good things about an app called BlindSquare.  Okay, it costs $30.00.  So, you may ask, why would I want to spend $30.00 on an app if my phone has a GPS app built in, and I can just ask Siri to give me directions wherever I want to go?  First of all, it finds many more places than your iPhone does.  This is because behind the scenes it uses data that has been input by thousands of users of a very popular app called Four Square. Secondly, the app makes it extremely easy to find places to go and things to do (these are called “Points of Interest” or POIs in GPS apps).  Everything is broken down into categories, like Food, Arts and Entertainment, Nightlife spots, Outdoors and Recreation, and Shop and Service, and then each category has a list of subcategories of things as specific as Afghan Food, or Falafel (fa la fel )Restaurant (in Food), or Shoe Repair or ATM  Machines (in Shop and Service).  You can just read through the list of places in each category to see what is available, or have it announce the places to you as you are walking or riding. If you need directions, you can ask it to give you directions to your destination through the built in Maps app, Google maps, or several other popular navigation apps, such as Wav, TomTom, and Navigon. You can even order an Uber ride from right within the app.

BlindSquare: Filtering to Narrow Your search

If you are walking or riding and having BlindSquare announce Points of Interest to you as you go, you can use a filter to narrow it down to just the information you want to hear.  The example they give is that you want to go shopping for clothes, but you don’t know which shops you want to visit.  You would ask BlindSquare to only tell you places in the Shop and Service category as you are walking through the city (and of course then you could even narrow it down to one of the subcategories if you wish, like clothing store).  Or maybe have it only look for Food if you are looking for restaurants.  And, of course, you could just search for a specific place if you know exactly where you want to go, or have it search within a specific distance.

Saving Favorites and Future Trips on BlindSquare

You can easily save places to your Favorites so you can find them again  on BlindSquare quickly.  You can even simulate a trip from a certain spot so you can find out in advance what will be around you when you go somewhere, preplan your routes for when you will be there, and so on.

BlindSquare Look Around: Pointing and Shaking Your Phone

You can ask Blind Square to tell you what points of interest (including intersections) are around you within a certain radius, and you get to choose the radius.  It even has a feature called Look Around that allows you to point your phone in a direction and find out what is located in that particular direction (again, you get to choose the distance).  Just shake the phone to exit this Look Around mode.  When you are walking, you can also just shake the phone to find out where you are.

Leaving Your Ears Free to Listen

You can even leave your ears open to listen to traffic and other sounds in the environment by using bone conducting head phones.  No, I didn’t realize there was such a thing, either.  Apparently they have been in use by walkers and joggers for quite some time.  There is a link within the BlindSquare app to find them on Amazon.  It appears they range from about $50 to $150, depending on their features, such as battery life and sound quality.  I would imagine you would want to be sure they are wireless (Bluetooth).

The Link for More info about BlindSquare

If you want to read about all the features Blindsquare has to offer (yes, there are more!), you can find the help file on the internet at

YouTube Video of BlindSquare Being Used by a Blind Woman

Also check out this YouTube video of a blind person walking around by herself in a mall to see how it can work indoors with devices called iBeacons that transmit information about the person’s location as he or she walks by:  No, sorry, these iBeacons are not set up in your local mall. But this shows what is possible for independent travel in the future.  The video has dialogue in another language, so if you use a screen reader, be sure it is set to read captions.  There are other videos about BlindSquare on YouTube—just be sure they are in English.

BlindSquare Demo Version

If you want to try BlindSquare out without buying it, they have a demo version called Blindsquare Event that is free. You can’t use it to get around in your environment (it is not going to connect to any GPS apps), but it lets you try out its other features as if you are located in places like Times Square in New York or Big Ben in London. When the app opens, choose the option for Demo, and then choose the simulated location you want to explore.

AroundMe App.

For those who don’t need all that Blind Square has to offer, but would still like to be able to search for points of interest in the area, a free and easy to use app is AroundMe.  It lists points of interest nearby such as banks, gas stations, restaurants, hospitals, and ATMs.

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