Talking Signs® Remote Infrared Audible Signage (RIAS)

Funded by grants awarded to Dr. Reginald Golledge, researchers from the Department of Geography at the University of California at Santa Barbara have conducted, since 1992, multi-year research on the use of Talking Signs®. This technology is designed to substitute for missing visual cues for those with limited or no sight. A transmitter continuously emits an infrared beam that can be picked up with a small hand-held receiver. The user scans the environment with the receiver and intercepts the infrared beam which contains a human- voice informational message that is heard through the receiver's speaker. In this way, a blind person can learn about what is in the environment and the direction to that location, much as signs and vision allow for other people.

Brief Summary of Talking Signs

The UCSB project director for Talking Signs® is Jim Marston.

Several newspaper articles discuss the technology and Marston's personal motivation for research on making blind travel more accessible.

ElderWeb 4/22/2004
Chicago's Daily Herald 1/11/2003.
Santa Barbara News Press 11/29/2002.

Short video clips on the RIAS system:
Press conference with San Francisco's Mayor Willie Brown and Jim Marston.
Talking Signs demonstration on MSNBC
Talking Signs demonstration at San Francisco BART station.


Activity participation and transit use are limited for many people with vision loss. Access to information and spatial knowledge is restricted because typical visual cues are not available. The causes of limited mobility were studied by first interviewing 55 persons with visual impairments to determine attitudes toward, and use of, transit. A possible way to overcome the lack of available cues was then studied by using Talking Signs(R) Remote Infrared Audible Signage (RIAS).

Results from the transit use interviews are in two journal articles, "Attitudes of Visually Impaired Persons toward the use of Public Transportation," (Golledge, Marston & Costanzo, 1997) and " Investigating Travel Behavior of Non-Ddriving Blind and Vision Impaired People: The Role of Public Transit" (Marston, Golledge, & Costanzo, 1997.

After the survey was analyzed, two field experiments were conducted on the UCSB campus, one was a route learning experiment and the other tested subjects finding a bus at the campus bus circle. The results showed very positive influences on travel efficiency, behavior and perceptions.

The next experiment was conducted in Santa Barbara, California using RIAS to find a bus stop, find the proper bus, navigate around the downtown bus terminal, and make transfers. Strong positive results were obtained about the efficacy of RIAS and its impact on independent travel.

A larger experiment was then conducted in San Francisco at a multi-modal train station to determine the effect on travel behavior when using a large transit facility and making mode transfers.
View illustrations of Talking Signs(R) installations at some of the experiment site.

A few short articles about some of these experiments are:

"Voices" describes the Santa Barbara bus terminal installation.

"Buildings Talk" covers the first installation of RIAS on a U.S. campus, at UCSB.

CSUN 2001 is a paper presented at the CSUN 16th Annual International Conference, “Technology and Persons with Disabilities.

"Talking Signs Technology Liberates Blind Travelers" reports on transit installations.

"Improving Transit Access for the Blind and Vision Impaired" (PDF) (Marston & Golledge, 1998) discusses the two experiments using Talking Signs(R) at the UCSB campus.

The UCSB Geography work was partially funded through research grants from the California Department of Transportation's Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways (PATH) and the University of California Transportation Center (UCTC). Those organizations have large databases of transportation related research reports (see links below).


PDF files of the following final research reports are available. If you need a PDF viewer, click Adobe Acrobat Reader. These can be viewed on screen or downloaded to a computer. Some reports from PATH and UCTC are also available in Word format. You can see PATH Research Reports in PDF by Golledge and Marston, or search their database by Author.

You can also search the UCTC database and order single or multiple bound and printed copies of these or any other reports, with no charge for printing or shipping, by ordering from their Web site . Please email Marston if you have a problem ordering them yourself.

"The Mass Transit Needs of a Non-Driving Disabled Population" (Golledge, Costanzo, & Marston, 1995) and "Public Transit Use by Non-Driving Disabled Persons: the Case of the Blind and Vision Impaired" (Golledge, Costanzo, & Marston, 1996) reports on attitudes and usage of pubic transit based on interviews with legally blind people regarding their mode of travel and the types of transit information they desired.

"Assistive Devices and Services for the Disabled: Auditory Signage and The Accessible City for Blind or Vision Impaired Travelers" (Golledge, Marston, & Costanzo, 1998) describes the UCSB experiments on path following and finding a bus.

"Towards an Accessible City: Removing Functional Barriers to Independent Travel for Blind and Vision Impaired Residents and Visitors" (Golledge & Marston, 1999) describes the Santa Barbara bus and terminal experiment.

"Towards an Accessible City: Removing Functional Barriers for the Blind and Vision Impaired: A case for Auditory Signs" (Marston & Golledge, 2002) reports on the experiment in a multi-modal train terminal in San Francisco. This is the latest of the field tests and gives data on the benefits of using RIAS for faster, safer and more efficient path completion. Participants also revealed how this efficiency would translate into more activity participation, travel, and a better quality of life.

The Dissertation "Towards an Accessible City: Empirical Measurement and Modeling of Access to Urban Opportunities for those with Vision Impairments, Using Remote Infrared Audible Signage " (Marston, 2002) summarizes previous experiments with RIAS and transit use, explores the idea of accessibility for those with disabilities, and reports on the field tests conducted at the San Francisco Caltrain station. It also discusses the personal data, trip behaviors, comments, evaluations, anticipated lifestyle changes, activity participation, and monetary benefits as reported by the participants. A bound copy ($15) can be ordered from UCTC , indicate UCTC#72.

The Hidden Demand for Activity Participation and Travel by People with Vision Impairment or Blindness (Marston & Golledge, 2003) discusses current and desired avtivity particpation behavior by the blind, and then looks at perceived changes to these behaviors after using RIAS.

Talking Signs® were developed and researched at the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center which has other source materials on the subject.