Jose is one of Columbus’ Mobility Assistance for People with Cognitive Disabilities study … [+] participants using the Wayfinder navigation app. On the left is Joshua Cook, associative director of The ARC of Ohio.
On a brisk autumn day in mid-November, Jose waits for the Columbus city bus with his caregiver, Joshua Cook, associate director of The ARC of Ohio, a service organization for people with disabilities. Jose, whose last name will not be disclosed for protection purposes, is a middle-aged man with vision impairments.
At the Delawanda Park and Ride bus stop, Jose patiently waits for an app on his smartphone to tell him when his bus has arrived. Cook stands behind Jose and relishes in the fact how independent he has become over the past few months using this mobile app.
Once on the bus, Jose holds his phone up to his ear, listening for cues on how much farther the bus needs to go until it reaches his destination. Once he is two stops away, the voice on the app tells him to prepare to get off the bus in a few minutes.
Jose is one of the selected few to test out such a revolutionary app, Wayfinder. The Wayfinder app features a highly detailed, turn-by-turn navigation system specially built for people with cognitive disabilities. The app allows a caregiver to develop instructions based on the unique needs of their loved one. This project aims to get participants from point A to point B safely using the bus, making it easier to independently travel to the grocery store or get to work on time.
Using actual location images and automatic audio prompts to notify riders to get off at particular stops, it also provides real-time location updates for family and caregivers on a web-based portal. The app also has functions that allow users to request a call or let caregivers know they have arrived safely at a destination.
Currently, the app is in its trial mode, sponsored by the Mobility Assistance for People with Cognitive Disabilities (MAPCD) study, which launched in April 2019 in collaboration with Ohio State University, Smart Columbus and Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA). MAPCD organized a year-long trial run of the app with 25 individuals with cognitive disabilities and their caregivers. The trial run will conclude a year later, and then the app will soon after become available for anyone in need.
The City of Columbus’ Smart Columbus plan won the U.S. Department of Transportation $40 million Smart City Challenge in June 2016 after competing against 77 cities nationwide to become the country’s first city to fully integrate innovative technologies – self-driving cars, connected vehicles and smart sensors – into its transportation network. MAPCD and its Wayfinder app are merely one part of the overall Smart Columbus initiative.
Preview of Wayfinder’s user interface.
“As a part of the Smart Columbus program, we want to be inclusive of all of our residents and visitors by helping them gain mobility and independence,” explains Andy Wolpert, deputy program manager at Smart Columbus. “So, the collaboration began for this [app] very early on. This is one of our initial projects, and we engaged Ohio State University and COTA to help us in developing the framework for this project.”
There were many other apps MAPCD and its team were considering when the study was first starting. Cook explains the Wayfinder app made it to the top of the list because of its unique customization feature. “Everyone likes this app the most was because of the customization and the ability to tailor it to everyone’s specific,” he says. “It can make it a little cumbersome on the [app’s backend] and a little challenging to import all the [navigation recordings and directions]. But I feel like it pays off so much. This route that we rode in on [this morning], I made that one in probably like 15 minutes, so it doesn’t really take that long,”
For Jose, the app has dramatically improved his quality of life and sense of independence. Before the app, he’d have to depend on family or caregivers to drive him, along with the Paratransit system, which has been known nationwide for its inefficiency and unreliability,
According to a U.S. Census Bureau 2017 population estimates survey, Ohio’s Franklin County, which includes the city of Columbus, has 142,723 residents with some form of disability.
The director of mobility services at COTA, Amy Hochman, says the overall central Ohio transit system is making great strides to make its network more accessible to disabled residents, as well as the growing elderly population. Hochman says, “Right now, COTA is really focused on providing, moving every life forward in central Ohio with some version of equity, diversity and including everybody in the community that wants and needs to use transit as well as connecting other mobility providers or mobility opportunities for everyone in central Ohio.”
To qualify to use the Wayfinder app, applicants participate in a thorough and secured training process. The first step is through COTA’s bus stop stimulation at its experience center. Hochman explains, “it’s a microcosm of an environment: a transit stop. We can really determine in this center what form and how to work with individuals to help them meet their transit needs. So, COTA has done a really great job to move themselves into the future. And I think that currently what we’re doing is a great opportunity for a lot of people to learn and to provide mobility and freedom for a lot of people, which just hasn’t been done before.”
After the initial evaluation, the potential Wayfinder app user meets with a team of occupational therapists at Ohio State University. Julie Faieta, a PhD. in occupational therapy candidate at the university and one of the programmers of the MAPCD study, explains, “Our general training program starts when people come in for the first time after we’ve consented them and we do an evaluation. We have them show us a number of different skills. So that has to do with like memory and money counting, looking at maps — different skills that you would need in the community. And we just see how they do on them. And it’s not a test of are they ready or not [to use the app]. It just tells us a little bit about where they are and how they learn. We also interview them to ask them why they’re interested in this program and what they want to get out of it, what are some of their goals so that we can make sure that we’re meeting their needs.”
The university team is in constant communication with the app developers about fixing glitches and adding other features. Carman DiGiovine, the head of the MAPCD program at the university and the director of the school’s rehab scientific technology programs, sees great potential in the Wayfinder app. He mentions that the app will come with an estimated price tag of $395, but as a civil engineer who’s been in the rehab sector for decades, he says that’s a fraction of what the app might’ve costed just 20 years ago.
As the MAPCD study wraps up next summer, the Smart Columbus, COTA and Ohio State University team hopes the results of the pilot program will be shared with other cities across the county so the Wayfinder app can be implemented nationwide.
This content was originally published here.