September 12, 2006 By Gina M. Scott
RIAS is an infrared wireless communications system that provides remote directional human voice messages making travel possible for people with disabilities. Permanently installed transmitters send out signals which are picked up by hand held receivers when the area is scanned. When signals are received, users hear specific messages such as "women's restroom" or "stairway." In addition, RIAS/Talking Signs, Inc. crosswalk audible "walk" and "wait" systems will also be installed. This will allow visually impaired travelers to identify landmarks, signs and other places of interest, as well as increase confidence and independence.
One visually disabled traveler in Colorado Springs, where Talking Signs has a similar project on the public transit buses, said: "It was really remarkable. It cuts us loose of all the strings of co-dependence. Just knowing which bus is where, and you can zero in on the door, walk on and find a seat."
Although RIAS have been installed before, this grant will make Seattle the first to have RIAS technology on a regional scale. "This is an important and exciting project for Sound Transit and our customers who will benefit from the Talking Signs technology," said Marty Minkoff, Sound Transit's director of transportation services. The project will provide a seamless signage path for travel between buses, trams, trains and transit stations for the Puget Sound area.
As part of the 2005 Federal Public Transportation Act, a three-year evaluation of the effects of RIAS on work life, education, community integration and improvement of independence and quality of life for people who have visual, cognitive and learning disabilities was mandated. The Secretary of Transportation will make a report of the results to Congress in October 2009. Congressman Richard Baker, who was a sponsor of the legislation, said of the RIAS MAP this week: "If the Federal Transit Administration brands the project as successful and meaningful in three years, doors could be opened for much broader funding in the next transportation bill."