Baruch-Designed Visual Aid Kiosk Talks the Talk So That Commuters Can Walk the Walk

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Photo - The Talking Kiosk at Whitehall Ferry terminal

The Talking Kiosk at Whitehall Ferry Terminal guides both visually-impaired and non-disabled travelers through the station.

-- Image by Touch Graphics

New York, NY - Oct. 24, 2008 - Blind and visually impaired people trying to make their way around the expansive Whitehall Ferry Terminal in lower Manhattan no longer have to rely on the “sounds” of fellow passengers to help get them to their destination. Now they can just ask a machine.

Resembling an automated teller machine, with a touch screen, the new apparatus is called a Talking Kiosk. It was unveiled last week and is the second such kiosk to be put into use in a city-owned building. The first one was installed a year ago at St. George's Ferry on Staten Island. Another one, in Penn Station, is undergoing renovations, but should be ready soon.

The brainchild of Dr. Karen Gourgey, who heads up Baruch’s Computer Center for Visually Impaired People, and a team of researchers, the kiosks were designed to be user-friendly for blind and visually impaired, as well as non-disabled travelers. Users can access information via a variety of formats: audio narration, video captions, images and sound effects. The machine emits a low, intermittent bird-like chirp, so that it can be easily located in the terminal.

A three-dimensional floor plan of the terminal’s concourse level is embedded in the machine, so whichever part of the map is touched on screen, the built-in narrator names the location. Hold your finger down on one spot, and the machine will tell you where that is in relation to the kiosk. The machine also lets passengers know when the next boat is leaving.

The latest incarnation of the kiosk differs from the original one in several ways, including its mostly stainless steel versus wood-construction, the addition of a front rubber bumper to lean against, and speakers above the monitor instead of on the sides, making the machine more compact.

Gourgey, who is blind, said that the kiosks “…give us a sense of autonomy and ease and independence.” According to her, there are approximately 78,000 people in the city who say they cannot see, and 153,000 people who report difficulty reading even with their glasses.

Barbara Lippman
News Office
646.660.6093