Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Accessibility via Gadgetry

I love gadgets, do-dads and things that go blinky-blinky. From Rube Goldberg machines that don’t accomplish a thing, to thing-a-ma-bobs that have an actual purpose; I love finding new devices and fiddle with ‘em.

I guess that is why I was so fascinated when I learned that the University of South Florida researchers developed a technology that uses cell phones to help people with brain injuries and other cognitive disabilities to use public transportation.

It’s called a Travel Assistive Device. It uses a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) technology inside cell phones to keep track of where riders with disabilities are along their bus route. Then the bus approaches the rider’s stop, the cell phone will vibrate and a voice message reminds the rider to pull the cord to tell the bus driver to pull over at the next stop. Cool, ey? With one caveat.

Diagram of how the GPS system is downloaded from a third party source, to a home computer, then sent via wireless connection to a cell phone.

GPS system make me a little squeamish, from a Big Brother point of view. However, if you use the device it to get off on a specific corner and then turned it off; no one would be the wiser if you slipped into a kink shop or bought a dozen donuts all for your lonesome, would they?

I used to know a man who provided bus training for people with cognitive disabilities. He used to teach them to look for landmarks to determine when to pull the cord. However, if the rider were looking at a pretty girl, or sneezing, or day dreaming, it would easy enough to miss the turquoise house, and the rider would be lost, usually riding to the end of the line before the driver would notice him/her. It was that timing that was the hardest for him to teach.

Researchers are testing it in Tampa now. Users are allowed to download the software directly from the web site to their cell phones. The technology works with Google Transit (Don’t ya just love google?) That part is free.

However, to roll out the program nationally, will take some bucks. They are looking for a foundation, business or government agency that will build a computer network to support the program and to hire technical experts to answer users' questions.

Forgetful older adults, kids riding home from school, all kinds of people will find this technology very useful. It’s another example of how a small investment in technology has a big payoff for all. I’m off now to re-check the numbers on that lottery ticket I bought last week.

For the technically minded among you, you can read the entire 81 page research project at: http://www.nctr.usf.edu/pdf/77711.pdf


Chuck said...

I have saved the PDF file on this. I'm having our transportation system enforce calling stops, let alone placing something like this, but maybe it can still be useful.

Big Noise said...

Thanks Chuck. I think it was a pretty cool idea too. I'm going to pas the info to a member of our action team who also sits on the Springfield Mass Transit Disability Advisory Board. and ask them to look into to it too.

Rhonda said...

Love this Cilla! Rob got me one FINALLY for Christmas… he said now I would always be able to find my way back home…. I have directionality challenges and Yahoo made my life so much better, but this has really made me more independent…. Even though I still don’t know left from right and south from north, technology is making me direction savvy@!!!