The Talking Kiosk 2 in New York's Penn Station

The following text is taken from a column called "F.Y.I" in the New York Times from April 15, 2001, in which people write in with questions about New York City.  The drawing below accompanied the piece.

kiosk bird logo (Click on the bird to hear the chirp!)

A Seeing-Eye Kiosk

Q.  Day or night, seven days a week, whenever I am near the Long Island Railroad waiting area in Pennsylvania Station, I hear a tape recording of chirping birds floating quietly on the air.  What purpose does it serve?

A.  Unless you're listening for it, it's easy to miss, but those chirps are meant to direct visually impaired travelers to a specially designed information kiosk, just outside the ticket holders' waiting room at the foot of the stairs to the concourse.   The chirping--it's one little wood thrush on a three-second tape loop--can be heard up to about 150 feet away, not so much over the din of the station as under it.   "If one is going to use the kiosk, one has to be able to find it,"said Karen Gourgey, director of the Computer Center for Visually Impaired People at Baurch College, who was the principal designer. 

The Kiosk talks.

"When you get within about 20 feet, a digitized human voice comes on saying 'Welcome to Penn Station' and explaining how to use it,"  Ms. Gourgey said.   "You can just press the start key and go to the main menu, and it tells you how to get to the subway, or Amtrak, or New Jersey Transit, or the LIRR, where the tracks are, or the ticket windows, or the information booths."

Visitors to the kiosk, which looks as innocuous as an ATM and cost about $50,000, can use either a tactile map or a telephone keypad to navigate the station's corridors.   People with normal eyesight can use it too, and they do. 

How do a few bird chirps lead passers-by to an information kiosk?  "They have to know it's thee," Ms. Gourgey said. "There's going to be a learning curve, because these amenities are kind of new, so we're trying to get the word out."   A prototype was tested on the site for 13 months before the talaking kiosk opened in July 1999.  Instead of a singing bird, it used a continuously chiming bell as an attracting device.  "The guy that runs the bookstore nearby, it was driving him crazy," Ms. Gourgey said.