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A NYC subway terminal.
Photograph: By Ryan DeBerardinis / Shutterstock

QR codes will make navigating the subway easier for the visually impaired and non-English speakers

The colorful tiles are part of a larger initiative to improve accessibility in NYC.

Ian Kumamoto
Written by
Ian Kumamoto

Whether it's fighting off angry rush hour commuters or straining to hear muffled conductor announcements, every day in the New York subway feels like a fight for your life. Now, imagine how inaccessible our city's transit is for people who are visually impaired or don't speak fluent English.

Luckily, there's an initiative that could make a lot of people's lives easier: The city is aiming to set up colorful QR codes in stations all over the transit system to make subways and buses more accessible for the many people who might have trouble navigating them.

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The system was first tested at the Jay St-MetroTech station in Brooklyn and along the M23 SBS Manhattan bus route but it's already expanding to more stations, per West Side Rag.

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Here's the accessible apps work

To use the QR codes, download the free NaviLens app, which reads the signs for you out loud in one of 34 different languages. The QR codes' bold colors make it easier for people with impaired vision to notice. In addition to reading signs, NaviLens also helps visually impaired commuters by providing train arrival info.

Meanwhile, a second app called NaviLens Go provides sighted users visual in-station navigation, trip planning information, train arrivals and service status information in up to 34 different languages. 

Both apps can be can be downloaded on Android or iOS devices. They use audio or text to help travelers determine key information, including real-time arrival data, the accurate location and distance to the nearest stop, crowding levels, and boarding areas.

You're probably going to start seeing more of these QR codes in the coming months: Last year, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced that the MTA would receive $2 million to expand the program in additional subway and bus stops, according to a press release, and we're finally starting to see the fruits of that investment. "These much-needed accessibility upgrades will drive the local economy forward, create opportunities for good paying jobs, and increase access to critical services," Senator Schumer said in a statement. 

It may feel sometimes feel like our aging transit system is falling apart, but programs like these offer some hope. At the very least, the subway should be inclusive and accessible to everyone, so that we can all hate on it equally. 

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