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, 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 Indianapolis Challenge goals and objectives to 3. Support Residents with Disabilities or Other Challenges and enhance experiences for residents with disabilities or other challenges that inhibit their ability to move around easily. 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. The primary focus of this proposed 6-month Pilot Project will specifically address Indianapolis Challenge’s objective to support the transition from 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 Indianapolis 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 Indianapolis metro area. 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 routes and technologies available to support their travel needs as a result of piloting our WayFinder Ecosystem with IndyGo 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 Indianapolis Challenge provides the opportunity to extend this proven travel support technology to thousands of additional individuals with cognitive and other disabilities in Indiana. 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 2) 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 (such as the Arc of Indiana or Easterseals Crossroads) 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 Indianapolis Challenge Pilot Project will allow the infrastructure to be put in place, as well as initial field testing of the WayFinder Ecosystem in the Indianapolis metro area, specifically in collaboration with the IndyGo transit service. This project will lay the groundwork for widespread use of the system within Indianapolis and allow IndyGo 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 Indianapolis area from another country, he or she will be able to download the a customized WayFinder app, and then download one or more routes from the cloud-based IndyGo 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 IndyGo 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 (described below). 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 Indianapolis 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 Indianapolis 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. In particular, within the Indianapolis IndyGo system it is reported that, “The largest service expense is for paratransit services, which is projected to be $11.7 million in FY2020.” (Indianapolis Public Transportation Corporation 2020 Management and Financial Plan, pg. 20).
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 Indianapolis area and test the impact of the system with a local service provider for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, such as Easter Seals Crossroads. AbleLink has collaborated with Easter Seals Crossroads in the past on several cognitive technology related activities, and have an established working relationship with Wade Wingler, Vice President of Technology and Information Systems at Easter Seals Crossroads.
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 IndyGo’s transit schedule data, as well as real time bus location information, to facilitate independent use of the the IndyGo 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 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. 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: 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 Indianapolis.
SMART Route Builder
SMART Route Builder is a web-based application that can be used to create SMART compliant routes. These routes can then be contributed to the IndyGo 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 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 Indianapolis SMART Route Library is a cloud-based service that will house SMART Routes for the specific geographic area covered by IndyGo. The routes are initially generated by AbleLink using IndyGo’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 Indianapolis Zoo or a Downtown Historical Walking Tour, with SMART Route Builder to be shared with other individuals in the same geographic region. Figure 2 shows an example of a SMART Route Library for the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA), 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 CARTA, Chattanooga, TN
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 IndyGo 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 IndyGo 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 Indianapolis 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 Indianapolis 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 (https://smart.columbus.gov/projects/mobility-assistance-for-people-with-cognitive-disabilities), 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 routes from a pre-populated SMART Route Library containing GTFS-based routes for the IndyGo 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 Indianapolis Challenge’s objective in Priority 3. Support Residents with Disabilities or Other Challenges to significantly improve transportation access for individuals with cognitive as well as other disabilities.
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 Indianapolis to provide IndyGo a geographically specific cloud-based library of routes 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 Indianapolis to benefit from these new technologies.
So How Does WayFinder Work?
Routes will be able to be selected from the IndyGo SMART Route Library that will have been populated by AbleLink as part of this Pilot Project based on IndyGo’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.” IndyGo’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.
In summary, in this Pilot Project we will establish the infrastructure necessary for the WayFinder Ecosystem to be implemented in Indianapolis in collaboration with IndyGo for the purpose of Supporting Residents with Disabilities and Other Challenges in reducing 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.