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MTA

Best-in-class Accessibility at New York City Scale

screenshot of MTA mobile app listing all of the train lines in a grid
Backstory

Better Serving Blind and Low-vision App Users

The New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) employs over 50,000 digital screens throughout its network of subway, buses, and railroads to keep passengers informed in real time.

With the help of Mercury, the MTA publishes upward of 80,000 service messages per month to these screens, but the information wasn’t accessible to riders who are blind and low-vision.

The MTA tasked Postlight with creating a solution that delivered audible, real-time transit information to riders who are blind or low-vision.

Strategy

“Nothing about us without us”

Postlight conducted interviews with riders who are blind and low-vision, orientation and mobility experts, and other stakeholders to form a deep understanding of how they navigate public transportation. Interviewees included those who travel by subway, buses, paratransit, and rail, with some using a combination of transit modes to get to their destination.

Challenges with complex station layouts, distracting environmental noise, and a lack of clear, audible stop announcements were common issues for riders across various transit modes. Almost everyone we interviewed used their mobile device to assist them, with the majority of users who are visually impaired preferring iOS for the robust accessibility support of Voiceover.

layered screenshots displaying a map and announcements from the MTA
Approach

Real-time, Location-based Information via Push

Based on the findings uncovered in user interviews, Postlight undertook development of a software toolkit that could deliver five types of mobile push notifications to users:

  • Service alerts
  • Departure times
  • Track changes
  • “Get off” notifications
  • Emergency alerts

These messages are delivered as native push notifications in a format accessible to mobile screen readers, including Voiceover on iOS and Talkback on Android. Users can opt to get notifications only when location services show they’re close to a relevant station or receive alerts ahead of time to plan for changes in their commute.

layered screenshots of the MTA mobile app
Outcome

Universal Design Impact

The Accessibility Library and Toolkit helps close a gap in information accessibility for riders who are blind or low-vision while providing benefit to all MTA passengers through its universal design.

Usability testing on a demo iOS app (created and deployed through Testflight) validated our core assumptions from the design phase of the Toolkit. We learned that there is utility and value for users receiving departure times, service alerts, and other information as push notifications. Participants considered these notifications to be an appealing new feature that might make the MTA native app become a part of their daily routine.