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Enhancing Independent Transportation for Individuals with Cognitive Disabilities and others with Special Needs with the WayFinder Ecosystem

Piloting an innovative mobile app to increase confidence and enable independent use of DDOT's transit system by special populations

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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.  In addition, social anxiety and not feeling comfortable traveling in the community add additional barriers to independent transportation.  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, attend college or participate in other 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 Michigan Central Station Challenge goals to improve confidence, travel independence and reduce social anxiety (Michigan Central Station Report) through the use of innovative training, travel support and virtualization technologies which are part of the WayFinder ecosystem.  Other goals include helping with navigation in unfamiliar places, providing support in multiple languages, and providing automated or one button push notification to send location information to assist with recovery from route mistakes, all of which can combine to making the travel experience more positive and increase confidence.  Additionally, this project will have the addedbenefit of helping to transition individuals from more dependent travel means, such as paratransit, to 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 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 Detroit metro area.  This will be accomplished by using several innovative tools for increasing confidence and reducing social anxiety of would be travelers as well as the increased availability of ready to use routes and technologies available to support specific trip needs as a result of piloting our WayFinder ecosystem with the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) transit system 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 (Davies, Stock, Holloway, and Wehmeyer, 2010; Hoetzel & Mullen, 2012).  The Michigan Central Station Challenge provides the opportunity to extend this proven travel support technology to thousands of additional individuals with cognitive and other disabilities in Michigan.  In this Pilot Project we will implement the full set of WayFinder cloud-based support tools for creating routes 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  field test the technologies with local service agencies to assess impact of the system on enhancing transportation independence for individuals with intellectual and developmental 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 Michigan Central Station Pilot Project will allow the infrastructure to be put in place, as well as initial field testing of the WayFinder ecosystem in the Detroit metro area, specifically in collaboration with the DDOT transit service.  This project will lay the groundwork for widespread use of the system within Detroit and allow DDOT 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 Detroit area from another country, he or she will be able to download the a customized WayFinder app (see Figure below), and then download one or more routes from the cloud-based DDOT 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 DDOT transit system.  Our service includes initial population (and ongoing updates as schedules are changed) of a complete online route library with transit routes in accordance with the SMART route standard.

  In addition, routes can be created by travel trainer staff as needed for additional custom routes for popular destinations, such as a tour of the Detroit Zoo or a downtown historical walking route.  From the WayFinder App, the user or a caregiver will be able to peruse the online library of routes 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 specific instructions for helping travel independently on a bus or train, 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 work or school. 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 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 incudes 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.  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, as well as system initiated detection and alerts when individuals deviate from the 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 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 WayFinder service, and experiencing a greater reduction in paratransit costs as a result. Our goal is to conduct a pilot project in Detroit 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.   

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 Detroit area and test the impact of the system with a local service provider for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  We will reach out to the Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network, which works directly with over 400 area service providers, for referrals to local agencies serving adults with cognitive and other disabilities to identify partner organizations who may be willing to participate in this proposed 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, 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 DDOT’s transit schedule data, as well as real time bus location information, to facilitate independent use of the DDOT transit system.  Additionally, these GTFS-based routes can be further customized or new person-centered routes 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 lack of confidence, social anxiety, and complexity of the process.  As a result, these individuals often must 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.  These specialized transportation support methods 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: Tools for Improving Independence in Travel and Building Confidence and Reducing Social Anxiety in Community Access

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 WayFinder ecosystem for this Pilot Project in Detroit.

 SMART Route Builder

SMART Route Builder is a web-based application that can be used to create SMART compliant routes which are used in WayFinder to provide step-by-step travel instructions in an accessible manner.  These routes can then be contributed to the DDOT 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.   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 can then be presented to individuals with special needs via a simplified interface on the WayFinder application that processes the information contained in the SMART Route.  As the user arrives at each location along the route, the app can automatically present 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 to instill confidence or 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 Detroit SMART Route Library is a cloud-based service that will house SMART Routes for the specific geographic area covered by DDOT.  The routes are initially generated by AbleLink using DDOT’s GTFS transit data and contributed to the online SMART Route Library.  Additional custom routes can be created for special local attractions, such as the Detroit Zoo or a Downtown Historical Walking Tour, with SMART Route Builder to be shared with other individuals in the same geographic region.   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 can be downloaded to his or her smartphone or tablet using the WayFinder app customized to interface with DDOT 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. 

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 customized to interface directly with the DDOT 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 Michigan Central Station Challenge.  This Pilot Project provides the opportunity to evaluate the impact of this accessible travel support technology and the support tools described in the next section for reducing social anxiety, increasing confidence, and enabling more independent travel for individuals with cognitive and other disabilities living in the Detroit metropolitan area.  This system is current being piloted in the Smart Columbus 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.

So How Does WayFinder Work?  

 Routes will be able to be selected from the DDOT SMART Route Library that will have been populated by AbleLink as part of this Pilot Project based on DDOT’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 the green and yellow shuttle bus and press the Start button when you see it coming.”  DDOT’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 Martin Luther King Park (as shown to the right). 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 that rings the bell) to notify the bus driver to stop at the next stop.  Typically, it is only a few blocks 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. 

Trip Virtualization System

An important component in the WayFinder set of tools is the Trip Virtualization system. This system is designed to allow users to experience a “virtual” trip through use of a video of the trip and a simulated travel support prompting system to provide travel instructions during the virtualization scenario.  The virtualization experience is specifically designed to familiarize the individual with what to expect while out in the community and travelling on the bus, with the goal to build confidence and reduce anxiety that often goes hand-in-hand with new experiences and traveling to unfamiliar areas.  The virtualization scenarios may include just a bus route, for example, or may include an entire door-to-door route to include first mile/last mile foot travel sandwiched around a bus route.    Ideally the video will be shown from the traveler’s perspective, such as out a side or front window of a vehicle depending on where the user usually sits or is trained to sit while traveling.   The system is composed of an application used to create the virtualization scenarios (Trip Virtualization Creator) and an application used for playback of the virtualization scenarios by the traveler in need of travel training (Trip Virtualization Viewer).  Figure 2 shows the main menu of the Trip Virtualization Creator application with several routes that have been downloaded from a SMART Route Library (developed in AbleLink’s companion ATTRI project). A virtual trip experience can be created for any of these routes by selecting the Manage Virtualization Scenarios button after highlighting the desired route.

                              Figure 2. SMART Virtualization Creator – Main Menu

After a video has been captured for a specific route, the travel trainer or caregiver will select the route and begin to build the virtualization scenario. The basic process for creating a virtualization scenario begins with selecting the video that was recorded for the route and using the Creator tool to mark the locations when travel instruction are to be presented using the WayFinder prototype app, which will be displayed on-screen as the virtualization scenario proceeds.  The traveler then uses the Trip Virtualization Viewer app to launch the scenario and begin orienting to the trip by watching the video, hearing and seeing the travel support instructions presented on the simulated app on-screen, and interacting with the app instructions as they are presented.  As the user taps the image for the route, the route audio is played identifying the route to the user and requesting him or her to tap the route image again to select the route.  When launched, the virtualization video begins playing full screen and the fully operable WayFinder simulation is shown in the bottom right of the display, as shown in Figure 3. 

                   Figure 3. Virtualization Scenario with Simulated Wayfinding App

As the video progresses, each of the appropriate prompts (pictures and audio instructions) associated with different locations along the route is presented on the simulated app for the user to respond to.  The virtualization scenarios provide the dual opportunity for individuals 1) to increase confidence and reduce anxiety associated with the “unknown” by virtually experiencing the upcoming trip and learning more of what to expect, as well as 2) learning how to operate the WayFinder SMART travel app and to hear the support instructions (e.g., “You are doing great.  Only a little while left before you get to work.”) provided throughout the route, including instructions as when it will be time to notify the driver when it is time to exit the bus.  For example, Figure 4 shows the prompt that is shown to the user when it is time to notify the driver to stop at the next bus stop and in the scenario the audio will play saying “Now, pull the cord to let the driver know it is time to stop the bus so you can get off.”

          Figure 4. Virtualization Scenario illustrating it is time to notify the driver to stop at

                          the next bus stop with the simulated Wayfinding app

Self-Directed Training Tools for Building Confidence in the WayFinder Ecosystem

The WayFinder ecosystem includes a self-directed training curriculum for individuals that may lack the skills and/or confidence to travel more independently in the community and use public transportation.  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 topics in four categories:  Travel Skills, Safety Training, Social Skills and Vehicle Identification Skills.  Many of the topics are designed to help increase the traveler’s level of comfort while traveling in the community and interacting with people and using public transportation.  Example topics include:

  • Tips to Remain Confident while Traveling in the Community
  • Protecting Your Personal Information
  • Getting to Your Bus Stop
  • Using Intersections and Crosswalks
  • Getting Help in the Community
  • People to Ask for Help
  • Using Landmarks
  • Purchasing a Bus Pass and Paying the Fare
  • 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 5).  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 5. Start page of “Getting Help in the Community” Training Session

 For example, Figure 6 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 6. Example page from “Getting Help in the Community” Training Session

 In summary, in this Pilot Project we will establish the infrastructure necessary for the WayFinder ecosystem to be implemented in Detroit in collaboration with DDOT for the purpose of supporting residents with disabilities and other challenges to 1) increase their confidence and reduce social anxiety with respect to community access, and 2) reduce their dependency on others to meet their travel needs and to transition from higher cost and less flexible paratransit system services to the 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.

How will your solution benefit residents, workers, or visitors in the Michigan Central Station impact area? (1,000 characters)

The intent of the WayFinder pilot would be to demonstrate the potential of the WayFinder application and it's corresponding ecosystem for helping individuals with cognitive and other disabilities to transfer from the use of paratransit services to fixed route services. Paratransit and agency-based transportation services are often more expensive, inconvenient, and not integrated with the general population transportation services. Previous research and field implementations have demonstrated the ability of the WayFinder app to enable individuals with cognitive disabilities to transition from use of paratransit or agency-based services to independent use of fixed route transportation services, with cost savings to individuals, municipal transit departments, and agencies serving people with disabilities while also providing increased access to work, school, health care, recreation, shopping and other areas of daily living.

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)

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 (Mullen & Hoelzel, 2012). In another study, 24 of 26 individuals with cognitive disabilities successfully navigated a fixed bus route without knowing their destination beforehand, using only the WayFinder system.

Tell us about your team or organization (500 characters)

AbleLink has been on the leading edge of research and development of smart living technologies for individuals with cognitive and other disabilities since 1997. We use the power of technology to make things simpler. AbleLink has completed over 80 R & D projects funded by the US Dept. of Education, NIH and other entities, all designed to support greater independence in employment, academics, social, recreational, health, and other areas of daily living. Web site:

Size of your team or organization

  • 2-10

Team or Organization URL

Are you submitting as a student team?

  • No

Are you submitting as a team from the Impact Area?

  • No

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/ Training for Virtualization 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)

For this Michigan Central Station Challenge we will establish the infrastructure to implement the WayFinder Ecosystem to help realize the goals and objectives of making transportation more accessible to thousands of additional individuals with cognitive and other disabilities living in the Michigan Central Station area. This will be accomplished by enabling individuals to move from less accessible and costlier means of transportation (e.g. paratransit, agency or other dependent options) through the increased availability of ready to GPS-based multimedia travel prompts provided by WayFinder to support their use of fixed route transit options. In this pilot we will work with one or more local adult service agencies to identify 20-30 individuals currently using paratransit or agency transportation services with a goal of successfully transferring at least 80% of participants to fixed route services. Cost data will be used to estimate potential savings for users and transit providers.

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

We will work with DDOT and one or more local agencies serving adults with cognitive and other disabilities to establish a pool of 15-20 individuals who currently use paratransit or agency services but may be able to transition to fixed route services with the added support of the WayFinder app and its supporting tools. The goal would be that at least 80% of the pilot study participants would be able to transfer to fixed route travel services. Baseline data will be solicited from DDOT such as cost-per-trip for paratransit vs. fixed route rides and used to estimate potential savings given various larger scales of implementation of the WayFinder Ecosystem. Further, data will be solicited from partnering service agencies such as staff costs in providing agency based transportation and miles traveled to further estimate cost savings for staff, mileage, fuel, vehicles, etc. This information will be summarized in the Final Pilot Project Report submitted at the end of this proposed project.

Sustainability Plan (500 characters)

Based upon the success rate of the pilot project in terms of riders transferring from paratransit to fixed route services, projections will be made in terms of the feasibility of transferring paratransit budget dollars to the fixed route budget to support ongoing implementation of the WayFinder solution. This could include free downloads of the WayFinder and Trip Virtualization apps and support of the SMART Route Library for riders to easily customize route instructions for individual riders.

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