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Improving Access to the Austin Community for Individuals with Cognitive Disabilities and others with Special Needs with the WayFinder System

Piloting an innovative mobile device app to enable independent use of Austin's Capital Metro transit system by travelers with disabilities.

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Our Solution

 Cognitive disabilities create insurmountable transportation barriers for millions of individuals world-wide because their disabilities often prevent individuals from driving a car or taking public transportation independently.  As a result, these individuals are dependent upon others to take them where they want to go or they simply end up staying home.  These roadblocks to independent transportation greatly limit the ability to work, access health care and nutrition resources, participate in educational endeavors, and make it difficult to visit friends and families whenever they like – thus leading to a significantly reduced quality of life and unnecessary dependency on government and charitable organizations.  Therefore, this project is specifically designed to meet Ford Mobility’s City: One Austin Challenge goals and objectives to 1. Supporting Health During the Unexpected.  Other goals include helping with navigation in unfamiliar places, providing transportation supports in multiple languages, and providing automated or one button push notification to send location information to assist with security, confidence-building and recovery from travel route mistakes.  The primary focus of this project will specifically address the objective to support the transition from MetroAccess paratransit to Capital Metro fixed route services.  Agencies using the WayFinder Ecosystem proposed for this project have documented 1) significant increases in ridership of the fixed route system (110% increase from baseline), 2) reduced use of paratransit, and 3) agency cost savings due to less staff time and mileage expenses for providing travel directly to residents (Mullen & Hoelzel, 2012).  For this Austin Challenge Pilot Project we will establish the infrastructure for the WayFinder Ecosystem to lay the foundation for realizing the goals and objectives of making transportation more accessible to thousands of additional individuals with cognitive and other disabilities living in the eastern Austin neighborhood areas.  This will be accomplished by enabling individuals to move from less accessible and costlier means of transportation (such as paratransit or remaining depending upon others for transportation) through the increased availability of ready to use fixed route instructions and technologies available to support their travel needs as a result of piloting our WayFinder Ecosystem with Capital Metro and implementing the infrastructure to support the SMART route sharing and support tools that are available with this service.  

Background on the WayFinder Ecosystem

 AbleLink Smart Living Technologies’ WayFinder is a commercially available transportation support system that has been available since 2010 and was developed specifically for individuals with cognitive disabilities to allow them to take fixed route public transportation independently.  The system was developed through research funding from the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institutes of Health.  Research shows that the system allows individuals to use public transportation more independently and that agencies serving individuals with cognitive disabilities can reduce both organizational transportation costs and usage of paratransit services (Stock, Davies, Herold and Wehmeyer, 2019; Stock, Davies, Hoelzel and Mullen, 2013; Hoetzel and Mullen, 2012; Stock, Davies, Wehmeyer and Lachapelle 2011; Davies, Stock, Holloway, and Wehmeyer, 2010).  The Austin Challenge provides the opportunity to extend this research-based travel support technology to thousands of additional individuals with cognitive disabilities in Texas.  In this Pilot Project we will implement the full set of WayFinder cloud-based support tools for creating GPS-based route instructions and enabling individuals to easily locate, download, and enhance the standardized routes based on personal needs for use with the wayfinding system that works best for them, and 2) field test the technologies with local disability service agencies to assess the impact of the system on enhancing transportation independence for individuals with cognitive and other disabilities. 

WayFinder was developed specifically for individuals with cognitive disabilities to allow them to take fixed route public transportation independently and to not have to use more costly paratransit services to travel or be dependent upon staff from support agencies for meeting their transportation needs. The system was developed through research funding from the U.S. Department of Education , the National Institutes of Health, and most recently through partnership with the Accessible Transportation Technology Research Initiative (ATTRI) of the US Department of Transportation Intelligent Transportation System’s Joint Program Office.  Research and field implementation in several US cities shows that the system allows individuals to use public transportation more independently and that agencies serving individuals with cognitive disabilities can reduce both organizational transportation costs and usage of paratransit services.

Overview of the WayFinder Ecosystem Service

This Austin Challenge Pilot Project will allow the infrastructure to be put in place, as well as initial field testing of the WayFinder Ecosystem in the eastern Austin neighborhood areas, specifically in collaboration with the Capital Metro transit service.  This project will lay the groundwork for widespread use of the system within Austin and allow the Capital Metro to offer a regionalized WayFinder app for Android or Apple smartphones/ tablets to anyone needing that level of transportation support. Therefore, whether the individual needs assistance due to a cognitive disability (intellectual disability, traumatic brain injury, etc.), due to low English proficiency, or as a result of visiting the Austin area from another country, he or she will be able to download a customized WayFinder app, and then download one or more routes from the cloud-based Capital Metro WayFinder SMART Route Library directly to their device.  Routes in the SMART Route Library for a particular region will be initially populated by AbleLink using GTFS transit data for the Capital Metro transit system.  Our service includes initial population (and ongoing updates as schedules are changed) of a complete online route library with transit route instructions in accordance with the SMART route standard (described below).  In addition, routes can be created by travel trainer staff as needed for additional custom routes for popular destinations, such as the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport or a downtown historical walking route.  From the WayFinder App, the user or a caregiver will be able to peruse the online library of route instructions for a specific route that has already been created for a particular bus from point of origin to destination, for example. This route can be downloaded directly to WayFinder running on a smartphone. The route he or she downloads can include picture prompts, audio instructions, and personalized guidance for helping travel independently on a bus, train, by foot, etc. The route will be able to be used as is, or it can be modified with specific pictures or audio prompts that are helpful for the individual (such as in another language). For example, a picture and audio prompt can be added to the individual’s downloaded route for Bus 25 indicating they are half-way to the doctor's office. Another prompt may be added to remind them to look around to make sure they did not leave anything on their seat before they leave to get off at their stop. Then the system will provide a specific GPS location-based prompt when it is time to signal the driver to stop the bus at the next stop.  

Remote Support Service and Travel Progress Notifications

The WayFinder Ecosystem includes a variety of remote supports and notifications that can be implemented based on the needs and desires of the travelers with disabilities and their support network to increase confidence and reduce travel anxiety.  As a first level of support and oversight, users of the WayFinder system can choose to have email or text messages sent automatically to a family member or other caregiver containing a map link showing their exact location at any particular time, or similar messages sent automatically when they start their route and then again when they arrive at their destination. This is designed to provide reassurance to both the individual traveling as well as to their family or caregivers that are concerned with their whereabouts and safety. For more comprehensive remote support, travelers can also choose to allow a caregiver or family member to follow them in real time using a secure web application which can provide local updates on a map every 30 seconds, including battery level of the device, any help requested, and system initiated detection and alerts when individuals deviate from the designated travel route.

WayFinder Helps Cities Meet Federal Accessibility Regulations

Transit authorities are already obligated to provide support to individuals with disabilities for use of their system. This is required by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act. One service that is offered to individuals with disabilities is the MetroAccess paratransit service. However, paratransit is costly and there is motivation to employ approaches and technologies that can be useful in moving individuals from paratransit services to the fixed route system. In addition, individuals with cognitive disabilities are underserved by the transit system due to restrictions required by paratransit services and the difficulty individuals have in scheduling those services for themselves.  Paratransit may not be able to cut services for people with mobility impairments, but they may be very interested in learning about what portions of the ridership could be converted to fixed route services. Thus essentially, they would be shifting some of the money they spend on paratransit to the fixed route-based WayFinder service, and experiencing a greater reduction in paratransit costs as a result. Our goal is to conduct a pilot project in Austin to be able to demonstrate the value of the system and to better measure the expected cost savings locally.

Nationally, it is estimated that the percent of paratransit riders that have an intellectual disability is approximately 17% (9 Million Americans with mild to moderate cognitive disability, divided by the 54 Million Americans with disabilities). From 2007 to 2010 the average cost of providing a paratransit trip was an estimated three and a half times more expensive than the average cost of $8.15 to provide a fixed-route trip. Over this same time, paratransit ridership increased 7%. (Ref: ADA Paratransit Services. Demand Has Increased, but Little is Known About Compliance. Retrieved 2014-03-19). Thus, there is the potential for significant savings for a transit authority as a result of moving a portion of the 17% of paratransit riders to the fixed route system.  

A successful pilot project in Austin will result in significant projected cost savings for the MetroAccess paratransit services based upon larger scale implementations, allowing Capital Metro to re-allocate a portion of this budget savings from paratransit services to expand and sustain the WayFinder services.  In illustration, Denver Colorado RTD Transit service expends $65 per paratransit trip (Claudia Folska, RTD Director for District E), while the customer pays $12 for this trip.  Thus, each paratransit trip costs the city $53.  If Capital Metro’s cost per trip were similar, for comparison purposes, a paratransit traveler taking 200 trips in a year costs the city $10,600.   Thus, for every 10 paratransit users that transition to the fixed route system through use of the WayFinder system the city could theoretically save over $100,000 per year.  After the infrastructure for WayFinder is put in place through this project, the estimated cost for 10 individuals to use the WayFinder service would be less than $10,000, representing a minimum of $90,000 savings for each cohort of 10 that transitions to Capital Metro’s fixed route system.

All of the cloud-based infrastructure for the various components of the WayFinder Ecosystem are already in place as a result of AbleLink’s previous research and development projects outlined previously.  Thus, the Pilot Project will provide the opportunity to establish the infrastructure within the east Austin area and test the impact of the system with a local service provider for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  AbleLink will work with the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities in Austin to identify partner agencies who may be interested in participating in the pilot project.

Building on Existing Technology: Quick Overview of WayFinder 

WayFinder is a specialized application which operates on off-the-shelf mobile devices and uses GPS and specialized visual, audio, text and vibration prompts to allow individuals with cognitive disabilities to be able to use fixed route transportation independently. With WayFinder, multiple travel itineraries, or routes, can be programmed into a single device to enhance travel choices and independent transportation.  Routes can be downloaded from an online library of routes containing accessible travel instructions based on Capital Metro’s transit schedule data, as well as real time bus location information, to facilitate independent use of the the Capital Metro fixed route transit system.  Additionally, these GTFS-based routes can be further customized or new person-centered routes (e.g., door-to-door) can be created by family members, travel trainers or agency staff by either taking the route with the WayFinder app and capture critical waypoints along the route, or by using the web-based SMART Route Builder application which allows routes to created directly using Google maps.  As routes are created, waypoints are captured and verbal instructions can be recorded to provide necessary travel instructions, and pictures can be added to provide visual cues along the way.  Once a route is downloaded or created with the device, a rider with cognitive abilities can then select the route and follow the multimedia step-by-step GPS-based prompts to arrive at his or her destination. 

Comparison of Proposed Smart Wayfinding Technologies with Existing Approaches

 A clear majority of people with cognitive disabilities either do not use public transportation because of the complexity of the process or currently rely on specialized transportation services (such as agency-based transportation services or paratransit) which are segregated, often pose restrictions on destinations and operating schedule, and require advanced reservations.  The critical requirement to make advanced reservations severely limits paratransit's ability to support the Austin Challenge goal to Supporting Health During the Unexpected.  These specialized transportation resources are generally very staff intensive and thus quite expensive to the supporting agency.  Smart wayfinding technologies (such as WayFinder  – to date the only commercially available smart wayfinding technology that has been designed to be cognitively accessible) present an opportunity for more independent transportation, and subsequently a more normalized lifestyle for individuals with cognitive disabilities, including veterans and seniors experiencing age related cognitive decline. 

Based upon research, development, and commercial use of the WayFinder app, AbleLink pioneered a technical approach which serves as the foundation for a standardized travel route protocol, called now the SMART Wayfinding Standard.  The SMART Wayfinding Standard uses JAVA Script Object Notation (JSON), a cross-platform file structure, along with common format multimedia files to provide travel instructions in an accessible manner to travelers with special needs.  This structure can facilitate creation, distribution, playback and sharing of travel instructions across organizations and across technology platforms.  By using a simple and open language for storing data and structuring that data, the SMART protocol is used by WayFinder to deploy step-by-step travel instructions for individuals with cognitive and other disabilities to use public transportation, or even detailed walking or hiking instructions for health-focused individuals, as well as guided tour instructions in an accessible manner for visitors of outdoor attractions, such as National Parks, zoos or open-air museums.  The destinations for which SMART travel routes can be used are only limited by the imagination of the route developer.   

Deep Dive into the WayFinder Ecosystem: Advanced Technologies for Building, Distributing and Utilizing SMART Routes

Several tools comprise the WayFinder Ecosystem developed by AbleLink Smart Living Technologies as part of ongoing ATTRI funded research and development projects to promote the adoption and use of the SMART Wayfinding Standard to facilitate travel independence for individuals with disabilities.  This section provides a detailed summary of these tools and how they fit within the SMART ecosystem for this Pilot Project in Austin.

 SMART Route Builder

SMART Route Builder is a web-based application that can be used to create SMART compliant routes.  These fixed route travel instructions can then be contributed to the Capital Metro SMART Route Library that will be setup at the start of this project and subsequently downloaded directly from the library to the custom WayFinder app, which can be provided for free to riders with disabilities.   Figure 1 depicts the “new route” screen in the SMART Route Builder application which is used to create a route, complete with instructions, pictures and audio which are used to provide accessible travel instructions at each key location along the route.  

                   Figure 1: SMART Route Builder Web-based Route Builder Application

The web-based route building application will enable travel trainers or caregivers to create routes for planned destinations for specific individuals with disabilities that they are supporting regarding the individual’s unique transportation needs.  Routes are created by adding waypoint locations, assigning GPS coordinates to each key location on a designated route, adding pictures and recording custom audio cues, such as “Do not get off here, you need to wait until the next bus stop” or “This is the doctor’s office, you can get off the bus when it stops.”  These cues are then be presented to individuals with special needs via the simplified interface of the WayFinder application that processes the information contained in the SMART Route.  As the user arrives at each location along the route, the app automatically presents travel instructions using audible and visual information and prompts (along with physical vibration alerts) associated with each specific geolocation.  This will allow caregivers to, not only program cues for target destinations, but also be able to provide the opportunity to anticipate points along the route where a mistake might be made and provide a pre-emptive cue (e.g., “Remember John, this is a different Starbuck’s, so do not get off the bus here.  Wait for your phone to tell when to get off the bus.”).  Digital pictures (which can be captured directly from a mobile device while editing a route or simply by selecting images available online when using SMART Route Builder to create routes) will be displayed along with the audio prompts to help identify landmarks at locations throughout the trip. 

SMART Route Library

The Austin SMART Route Library is a cloud-based service that will house SMART Routes for the specific geographic area covered by Capital Metro.  The routes are initially generated by AbleLink using the Austin transit agency's GTFS transit data and contributed to the online SMART Route Library.  Additional custom routes can be created with SMART Route Builder for special local attractions, such as the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport or a Downtown Historical Walking Tour, to be shared with other individuals in the same geographic region.   Figure 2 shows an example of a SMART Route Library for Pittsburgh’s Port Authority and Beaver County Transit, the primary transit agencies serving the Pittsburgh metro area, which shows a map containing various types of routes (bus, walking, light rail) which are color coded based on the type of route.

             Figure 2: Cloud-based SMART Route Library for Port Authority and Beaver Valley Transit, transit agencies serving Western Pennsylvania

After a route has been created with SMART Route Builder. a user with administrative privileges can upload the route to  the SMART Route Library.  Once the route is uploaded, the SMART Route Library server application will open the route folder, condition all of the media contained in the route, and reassemble it.  The reason for this step is to ensure media playback compliance across multiple platforms due to the difference of supported file formats from one mobile operating system to the next.  Once the route is reassembled it will be categorized based on location and made available for download.  Another user can then browse the SMART Route Library from his or her SMART Ready wayfinding app and select from routes available in the user’s specific geographic area.  When the user finds a route for a destination he or she is wanting to travel to, the route instructions can be downloaded to his or her smartphone or tablet using the WayFinder app set up to interface with Capital Metro transit data and used immediately to travel to the desired destination.  Alternatively, the route instructions can be customized to meet the specific needs of a particular user, such as by adding in instructions for getting from the user’s front door to a particular bus stop and/or from a bus stop to the final destination (i.e., "first mile/last mile"). 

WayFinder: The SMART Ready Mobile Wayfinding App

WayFinder, our SMART Ready mobile wayfinding app, is an application that has been developed to operate with SMART Routes and to use the information and instructions in the route to provide travel related support to users with special needs.  In addition, WayFinder will be set up to interface directly with the Capital Metro SMART Route Library that will be setup for this project to download routes which can then be used to support specialized travel needs.  WayFinder has been developed to support the specific travel needs of individuals with cognitive disabilities, a population that historically has underutilized fixed route transit, despite having a significant need with regards to more independent transportation.  WayFinder operates on off-the-shelf Android and iOS smartphone and tablet devices and uses GPS and specialized visual, audio, and vibration prompts to allow individuals with cognitive disabilities to be able to use fixed route transportation independently.  The WayFinder application uses the SMART Wayfinding Standard to present travel instructions to users with special needs. 

The vision of this Pilot Project is to implement this new cognitively accessible transportation technology as part of Ford Mobility’s City:One Austin Challenge.  This Pilot Project provides the opportunity to evaluate the impact of this accessible travel support technology for individuals with cognitive and other disabilities living in the Austin metropolitan area.  This system is current being piloted in the Smart Columbus (Ohio) project as the primary app for the Mobility Assistance for People with Cognitive Disabilities project (, in Western Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh’s Port Authority and Beaver County Transit) as part of our ATTRI projects, and most recently by the State of Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (TN-DIDD) in Chattanooga.

The critical opportunity now exists for the relevant technology developers in the field of accessible transportation research to encourage widespread adoption of smart wayfinding technologies through cooperation and standards development, such as use of a common language for developing and deploying the instructional sets that support independent travel and increased utilization of fixed route transit systems.  As the field emerges, there certainly will be benefits to having smart wayfinding systems available, such as WayFinder, and being able to share routes across the different systems that are created provides efficiency that is beneficial to a broad spectrum of travelers with cognitive and other disabilities.  For example, given the fact that creation of travel routes can sometimes be time consuming or in many cases too complex for individuals with cognitive disabilities to accomplish themselves, there is benefit to enabling end users to download previously created route instructions from a pre-populated SMART Route Library containing GTFS-based routes for the Capital Metro transit system, without having to create the content themselves or have the content re-created for their particular system.  In addition, the availability of a route standard can accelerate implementation of the WayFinder Ecosystem to meet the Austin Challenge’s objective in Priority 1. Supporting Health During the Unexpected, which specifically calls out supporting families, immigrants and people with disabilities.  The customizable nature of WayFinder route instructions allows audio instructions to be recorded in native languages and customized to meet the unique needs of each of these populations to improve affordable access to health and nutrition resources.

This Pilot Project will build upon the successful development of AbleLink’s SMART system, known as the Specialized Media for Assisting Route Travel (SMART) Wayfinding Standard to provide a common language for electronic wayfinding systems developed specifically for people with disabilities.  SMART is a standardized JSON format for defining a route ­ consisting of a set of related GPS-coordinates, picture, audio, and video files used for presenting instructional content to support independent travel using public transit systems.  The instructional content can be tailored to the specific needs of travelers with disabilities through use of step-by-step location-based route instructions based on specific destinations, unique destination types, and cognitive support needs.  In this project, we will setup the infrastructure for the WayFinder SMART Ecosystem in Austin to provide Capital Metro with a geographically specific cloud-based library of route instructions that adhere to the SMART standard for travelers in the local area to help transition individuals from paratransit and dependency upon agency based travel services to the fixed route system. 

 The technical rationale for this project builds upon several previous evidence-based research projects conducted by AbleLink Smart Living Technologies, as well as our successful commercially available smart wayfinding technology system -- WayFinder.  Our research foundation focused on cognitive support technology and GPS-based prompting has demonstrated the tremendous potential that mobile devices and GPS-based software have for improving community access for persons with cognitive disabilities as highlighted in the Spring 2019 Issue of Popular Science magazine titled “How We’ll Move, pp- 64, 124.  The WayFinder Ecosystem that will be piloted in this project will serve to expand upon previous research and leverage existing technologies to accelerate development of the infrastructure needed in Austin to benefit from these new technologies.

So How Does WayFinder Work?  

 Routes will be able to be selected from the Capital Metro SMART Route Library that will have been populated by AbleLink as part of this Pilot Project based on the Austin Transportation Department’s GTFS transit data.  Downloaded routes relevant to the individuals’ geographic area will be displayed on WayFinder with an image and include an associated descriptive audio of the route. The user first selects the desired travel route via the on-screen picture and the initial prompt screen is displayed, such as a picture of a specific bus to take as well as an audio prompt that announces: “This is our starting bus stop.  Watch for Bus number 123 and press the Start button when you see it coming.”  Austin Transportation Department’s GTFS Trip Update feed can provide a gateway into real-time bus locations and estimated arrival times for stops.  WayFinder is designed to interface with standardized GTFS Trip Updates feed to provide travelers with cognitive disabilities with real time bus arrival information in an accessible manner within their route, without having to exit the travel instruction app to use another app to know how long it will be before his or her bus will arrive.  When the bus approaches, the user then presses the Start button and instructions are provided with a picture and audio message to wait for the bus to stop, wait for others to get off the bus, and then to get on and take a seat.  The user then presses the OK button to continue.

Landmarks are optional features of WayFinder that can be created within the system during route setup that enable users to be alerted to visual landmarks (businesses, buildings, bridges, parks, etc.) along the way in an effort to help learn the travel route.  When the bus approaches a designated landmark waypoint, the system automatically displays a picture of the landmark and plays a custom audio message such as “You are now going past the Austin Central Library. Press the OK button when you see it.” The system can also be set to simply display the landmark as an informational prompt and play the associated audio message without requiring any interaction from the user.  Then, when the landmark waypoint is passed, the picture goes away and the default screen again appears.  One of the purposes of landmarking, in addition to general trip orientation, is to help keep the user’s attention focused on messages provided by the travel support system so as to increase the likelihood that the user does not become distracted and miss critical messages. Being distracted, or “day-dreaming,” has been documented as one of the common reasons people with intellectual disability miss their bus stop.  For example, Hunter Sargent (a person with an intellectual disability) noted that “the biggest challenge with my disability is that I’m easily distracted – I have difficulty staying focused – and as a result I can miss my stop” (Sargent, 2005).  Landmarking is a strategy for helping mitigate this issue.

Although the landmarking capabilities provided by the system are useful, the primary purpose of WayFinder is to use GPS location information and speed detection algorithms to enable users with intellectual disability know when to get off a bus and just as importantly, when to stay on the bus when it stops at a different bus stop.  There may be dozens of other places a bus stops along any given route to drop off and pick up other passengers, as well as at layover points where the bus stops for a period of time simply to maintain a schedule.  The WayFinder system uses GPS speed data to detect when the bus has stopped, and combines this with GPS location information to identify if the stop was at a scheduled bus stop location, a layover point, or simply for traffic related reasons (red light, stop sign, traffic congestion, etc.).  Thus, when the bus stops at a known scheduled stop waypoint – but not the designated destination stop for the traveler – a picture is displayed along with the verbal message “This is NOT your Stop – Stay on the Bus.”  This message will repeat until the user acknowledges the message by pressing the OK button.  Also, the system can detect when the stop may last for several minutes at a layover point, and provide additional information to the traveler to stay seated. 

As the trip nears its destination, a special landmark can be used to tell the traveler that his or her destination stop is coming up next and that it is time to ring the bell (that is, pull the cord or press the strip that rings the bell) to notify the bus driver to stop at the next stop.  Typically, it is only a short ways prior to the destination bus stop and when the bus reaches this waypoint a visual prompt of someone pulling the bell wire can be displayed to signal the desired stop.  In addition, the unit vibrates continuously and an audio message plays repeatedly that says: “Your bus stop is next – pull the cord now to ring the bell.  Press the Next button after you ring the bell.”  This message is repeated and the unit continues to vibrate until the user pulls the bell cord and presses the Next button. 

Transportation Training Modules Available for Self-Directed Learning

The WayFinder ecosystem includes a web-based self-directed training curriculum for individuals new to using public transportation which is designed to learn about important topics related to traveling independently in the community.  These topics include useful general training modules that can help individuals learn what to expect while traveling in the community.   Training sessions are presented with AbleLink’s accessible learning tool which uses multimedia and cognitive design strategies to enable individuals (such as those with cognitive disabilities) to choose sessions of interest and go through the sessions on their own.  The system includes 21 topics in four categories: Travel Skills, Safety Training, Social Skills and Vehicle Identification Skills.  Example topics include:

  • Signaling Your Stop While on the Bus
  • Getting to Your Bus Stop
  • Getting to Your Destination
  • Using Intersections and Crosswalks
  • Making Transfers
  • People to Ask for Help
  • Using Landmarks
  • Crossing Streets without a Signal

For example, the Community Social Skills category contains several sessions including “Getting Help in the Community.”  When the session is selected, an audio plays providing an introduction to the session and a green Start button is displayed (Figure 3).  After the Start button is pressed, the session proceeds by presenting the training content using pictures, text, and audio to explain important topics as part of the session. 

                Figure 3. Start page of “Getting Help in the Community” Training Session

 For example, Figure 4 shows the first page of the “Getting Help in the Community” training session which, when displayed, automatically plays an audio description (which corresponds to the text on the screen) saying “Traveling in the community is important for many areas of life.  This includes going to school, work, shopping, recreation, doctor’s appointments, visiting friends and family, and many other activities of daily living.  But sometimes unexpected things may happen, like getting lost or interacting with other people.  This session reviews basic things you can do to get help when you are out in the community.  It also includes things you should not do to get help.  Press the Next button to continue.”

         Figure 4. Example page from “Getting Help in the Community” Training Session

In addition to the availability of the generalized training modules listed above, this project will allow additional modules to be developed and added to provide specific instructions for using the Austin Capital Metro system, such as instructions for paying a fare and purchasing a MetroRail ticket, and understanding local transit displays and signs specific to the Austin area.  These modules will be developed and contributed to a custom Transportation Skills Learning Library setup for the Austin Challenge pilot project.

In summary, in this Pilot Project we will establish the infrastructure necessary for the WayFinder Ecosystem to be implemented in Austin in collaboration with Capital Metro for the purpose of Supporting Health During the Unexpected in reducing their dependency on others to meet their travel needs and to transition from higher cost and less flexible MetroAccess paratransit system services to the Capital Metro fixed route system.  A summary of specific project activities, including specifically Who will use our solution, Insights from previous testing, Information on our team and organization, How we will pilot the WayFinder Ecosystem, and the Sustainability Plan for the future are summarized in the reminder of this proposal.

Describe who will use your solution (1,000 characters)

The WayFinder Ecosystem serves individuals with cognitive disabilities who are eligible for MetroAccess paratransit services but may be able to transition to Capital Metro fixed route service. Examples include people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, individuals with autism spectrum disorders, people with traumatic brain injuries, older Americans with early stage dementia, and any person who's cognitive disability limits their ability to use fixed routes. Additionally, due to the multi-lingual nature of the system, immigrants will be able to use the system to improve access to fixed route services. Secondary beneficiaries include entities that provide transportation services such as municipal transit agencies that provide costly paratransit services, families, and agencies serving these populations to include the provision of transportation services. For the purposes of the pilot project, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities will be targeted.

Describe your solution's stage of development

  • Ready to Scale - you have completed and expanded your pilot and are seeing adoption of your solution by your intended user

Insights from previous testing (500 characters)

A pilot project was conducted with the City of Albuquerque and ARCA, an agency serving adults with intellectual disabilities. It started with a pilot group of ten individuals who collectively had a baseline of 160 one-way fixed route bus rides per month. Through use of WayFinder, ridership numbers increased to a total of 320 one-way rides per month in one year, exceeding the original goal to increase collective rides by 35%. Other usability studies yielded similar successful results.

Tell us about your team or organization (500 characters)

AbleLink Smart Living Technologies, LLC, has completed over 90 research and development projects with support from the US Department of Education, the National Institutes on Health, the Department of Defense and other sources, all designed to increase independence in various activities of daily living for individuals with cognitive disabilities. More information can be found at We have over 45 peer-reviewed journal papers documenting the results of our research.

Size of your team or organization

  • 2-10

Team or Organization URL

Funding Request

  • $100,000

Rough budget (500 characters)

Infrastructure Implementation Activities - 1 Mos - $ 16.5K Technology Procurement, Software Installation/ Testing - 1 Mos - $18K, Field Testing Coordination/ Development of Local Training Content Dev - $10.5K - Travel Support Staff - 1 Mos- $25K Baseline Data Collection, Transportation Readiness Assessment, Participant Training - 1 Mos - $12.5K Field Test Implementation, Support& Travel Manager System Activities - 2.5 Mos -$15K Pilot Project Final Report/ Implementation Plan - .5 Mos $2.5K

Describe how you would pilot your idea (1000 characters)

We propose a 6-month Pilot Project in which the infrastructure for the WayFinder Ecosystem will be set up specifically for the City of Austin, to include a cloud-based SMART Route Library of existing fixed routes using GTFS and other sources of information, our SMART Route Builder application for person-centered route creation, and implementation of a custom WayFinder app which will interface with the Austin infrastructure. We will partner with a local intellectual disability service provider agency which will be identified with assistance from the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities to identify a group of individuals who are currently using MetroAccess paratransit services but may be able to transition to Capitol Metro fixed route services with the added supports of the WayFinder Ecosystem. It is hypothesized that at least 75% of the individuals in the pilot group will be able to successfully transition to fixed route services for 1 - 4 frequently used routes per week.

Describe how you would measure the success of your pilot (1000 characters)

Metrics will be developed to measure cost savings to the MetroAccess paratransit service based upon the successful transition of individuals in the pilot project to the fixed route system. Based upon these results, projections will be made to determine the potential savings based upon a range of larger scale implementations. This will allow Capital Metro to advance policy objectives in future planning efforts by reducing the prohibitively high cost of MetroAccess paratransit services and increasing the use of mainstream fixed route service. Baseline measures of current travel support requirements will be documented to provided comparison to expected reductions in external travel support needs (such as paratransit or agency based travel support services) following implementation of the WayFinder Ecosystem for the study participants. We will target approximately 25 individuals with cognitive disabilities and/or immigrants in Austin to participate in this 6-month Pilot Project.

Sustainability Plan (500 characters)

The largest service expense for most municipal transit agencies are paratransit services. A successful pilot project will result in projected cost savings for the MetroAccess paratransit services based upon larger scale implementations, allowing Capital Metro to re-budget a portion of the savings from paratransit services to expand and sustain the WayFinder Ecosystem Services. We will use existing Capital Metro cost data to extrapolate potential cost savings at various implementation scales.

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