President signs transportation bill

August 18, 2005

San Francisco: In approving the Transportation Equity Act -A Legacy for Users, (TEA- LU), late Friday evening, the U. S. Senate and House of Representatives has funded a major project evaluating remote infrared audible signage (RIAS). This project is another important step in the efforts to make the built environment accessible to people with disabilities originally launched by the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.

The technology operates by the installation of infrared light transmitters that broadcast repeating, human voice messages, providing directional, wayfinding information that can be heard by visually, cognitively, or learning disabled users through small, hand-held receivers. RIAS systems have proven effective for navigation in transit stations/bus shelters (providing the user the destination and time of arrival of the next bus), and at street crossings. They enable a user to tell what bus is coming when it is up to one hundred feet away and to locate its entrance. In addition to transit applications, the system has been installed in libraries, city halls, convention centers, museums, and parks; primarily in the U.S. and Japan.

The project, entitled the Remote Infrared Audible Signage Model Accessibility Project (RIAS MAP) authorized in the new act, will provide funding for a regional, multi-modal/intra-modal evaluation of the technology. The impact of RIAS on education, work, personal economics and quality of life will be studied. Its use for emergency egress will also be evaluated. The Transportation Equity Act -A Legacy for Users (TEA-LU), authorizes the Secretary of Transportation to spend a minimum of $500,000 annually on the RIAS program from 2006-2009. Congressman Richard Baker, 6 District, Louisiana along with Representatives Eleanor Holmes-Norton of Washington, D.C. and Stephen LaTourette, District 14, Cleveland, Ohio, championed the inclusion of the RIAS MAP.
Invented in 1981 at the Smith-Kettlewell Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center in San Francisco, the technology was researched, developed and evaluated through the next two decades. Today, Henry Metz, Director of the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute said: "RIAS has already demonstrated a new freedom to individuals whose independence has been limited by lack of access to signs on buses and in other public transit environments. The technology is as useful to people with visual disabilities as curb cuts and ramps are to people who use wheel chairs. This new Congressional action to create RIAS MAP will provide portal-to-portal, seamless orientation access to wayfinding signage and hopefully will add significantly to its present national and international deployment." RIAS is currently being installed in the US and Canada by Talking Signs, Inc. of Baton Rouge, LA and in Japan and Norway by Mitsubishi Precision Co., Ltd. of Tokyo.

Contact: 415-608-4242 cell phone; 912-638-2549 regular; 415-345-2111.

Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute

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