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Wheels Anywhere [Working Title]

We are developing a community-driven mobile application that helps people with mobility limitations better navigate urban areas

Photo of Raymond Van Cleve
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Our vision is a mobile application that provides navigation guidance for people with mobility limitations. Unlike traditional navigation apps (Google Maps and Apple Maps) our application would specifically plan routes that avoid road hazards and impediments. These roadside and sidewalk obstacles can be challenging for people with mobility limitations. A simple way to describe this idea is “Waze for wheelchair users.” While this description may be a little simplistic, it encapsulates the core essence of what we are trying to build. We want to build an app that identifies optimal routes for people with a disability. The routes this app will suggest will avoid obstacles that most pedestrians can negotiate but are much more challenging for people with a disability. We would start small by developing an app that focuses on wheelchair users and would plan routes that avoid broken sidewalks, degraded curbs, slippery and uneven pavement, and could identify accessible entrances. Though the application will begin by being focused on wheelchair users, once we develop this application and have a strong user base, we plan to expand the application to accommodate a broader range of disabilities including visual impairments, hearing impairments, and others.

The information the app would use to identify hazards would be gathered through community engagement. Our application would have functionality built in so users could upload road hazards they encounter, suggest alternative routes, and can identify the most accessible entrances to specific buildings. When users come across impediments - a curb stop that is broken and cannot be traversed by a wheelchair, a piece of cement that broke off from construction that blocks most of a sidewalk, a bus stop that is not wheelchair accessible – they upload this into the app. The app will allow people to upload a picture and a comment about the impediment. The app would find optimal routes that avoid these hazards. If and when the obstacles are resolved users could upload that information as well. Ideally, once the user base becomes broad enough, the data derived from this app could be shared with municipal governments to identify areas and alert property owners about their responsibilities and the need for repair.

            Our solution would be developed with the technical support of PathVu, a start-up measuring sidewalk degradation. This technical support will help us better understand app development. We will also work alongside CLASS (Community Living and Support Systems), a non-profit organization that seeks to improve accessibility throughout Pittsburgh. CLASS will help us engage with users and help us refine our final product so that it’s functionality meets the varied needs of our users. We would like to continue developing this product within the Agile development framework. Developing in this framework would require constant feedback from users. CLASS is excited to help us engage with wheelchair users to integrate user feedback into our development process.  

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

Our initial users will be comprised of people with mobility impairments and their friends and family who encounter these various impediments on a daily basis. Our target market will be mostly wheelchair users and their friends and family who may be more acutely aware of these impediments. As the application becomes more and more developed we will hope to expand our user base to include people with other disabilities that affect mobility (hearing impairments, vision impairments, etc.) and traditional non-disabled pedestrians and cyclists who frequently use specific transportation routes. In the beginning, we will focus our intervention on people living in Pittsburgh and people who use or would like to use public transportation more. We feel public transportation is an area where our app can quickly provide a great deal of value.

Describe your solution's stage of development

  • Prototype - you have built a prototype and tested it with potential users

Tell us about your team or organization (500 characters)

We are five public health graduate students with varied backgrounds. Kat and Ray previously worked in software development and IT. David specialized in emergency medicine and worked as an EMT. Jennie specialized in gerontology, and Erika specialized in exercise science and was a collegiate athlete. These skills sets mix nicely in designing, building, and testing an app aimed addressing some of the more complicated social determinants of health.

Size of your team or organization

  • 2-10

Funding Request

  • $50,000

Describe how you would pilot your idea (1000 characters)

We aim to use a scrum approach with concurrent user feedback to develop our solution. We would then begin beta testing alongside individual users, seeing how they use the app and what information is being uploaded. We aim to have a few groups of users, some who use it with us present and some who use it without any guidance. Once we have a solid product and user base developed, we will monetize this app in two different ways. The first is to offer advertisements for stores, restaurants, and other customer facing businesses that are ADA compliant. Once our product begins to produce large quantities of data, we will pursue the second strategy of monetization of offering this software as a service. We will contract with firms or municipalities with large facilities or roadways. Our software will provide data to identify bottleneck areas they control that can be more accessible.

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

We would have two measures of success. The first is direct feedback from our users. If the users felt that they liked the app was useful and could actually provide better routes then that would be a definitive marker that the app was doing what it was supposed to do. This would be evaluated through a short survey and through conversations with the users. We would ask questions like: “How often did you use this app compared to a similar app that is designed for pedestrians?” Our goal is that our app would be their default solution for navigation. The second measure of success would be the quality and quantity of the data derived. We are interested in the number of impediments identified and the amount of people and time using the app. We would ideally like to see how many times a user was rerouted around an obstacle that would not be identified by another navigation app designed for pedestrians (i.e. google maps, apple maps, etc.).


Join the conversation:

Photo of Diana Avart

Hi Raymond,

Thanks so much for the submission! This type of technology could have a huge impact on people with mobility barriers, helping them navigating the somewhat difficult terrain in Pittsburgh and go beyond the areas that they frequent on a regular basis because they know they will be able to successfully get to their destination.

- Diana, Facilitator

Photo of Raymond Van Cleve

Thanks Diana! I hope this can work out! I am submitting this on behalf of my team - is there a way I can include them on the submission?

Photo of Diana Avart

Hi Raymond,

Sorry I wasn't able to reply to this sooner - it was a bit hectic leading up to the deadline! Do your teammates have accounts on the platform? If so, I will see if we can add them for you - just tag them in the comment here. If we aren't able to since the deadline has passed, your "Tell us about your team or organization" section should be sufficient but I would still encourage you to have them join the platform so they can keep up on things during the Refine Phase!

Photo of Raymond Van Cleve

Hi Dana - I did mention in the application, is there any way I can have them get updates on the application as I do? They've been very important to the development of this process and I'd like to try to keep them in the loop!