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.