Not all problems require big ideas to solve. Here are five innovations imagined by people with a disability that would reduce barriers to travel. Some build upon new technology whilst others take existing ideas and add an inclusive twist.
The most popular solution that people with a disability call for is an accessible and inclusive Travel planner. Often they find that information about a journey is held in multiple locations, some with a bus company, some with the city and some with NGO’s. Transport is a single process, and there is a strong sense that planning technologies should reflect the need for a seamless process. The development of a website or application to plan travel for people with disabilities, recognising that the barriers to mobility vary from person to person, would appear to have significant benefit bringing greater autonomy and information. Pulling together data such as access to stations, accessible routes to stations, accessibility on board, and what to do when things go wrong would help people with disabilities and anyone with additional needs on a journey.
For many, this included connectivity to the transport or vehicle itself, showing when an accessible vehicle will arrive and the current waiting time. Additional information such as how crowded the next vehicle is might also benefit those who are neurodiverse and want to avoid congestion which might be a trigger for pain or discomfort. Above all else, such an application would impact making journeys more manageable and comfortable with less time spent thinking about travel and more time enjoying the journey.
Others suggested variations on such an app, feeling that an app that guided them to accessible parking spots updated in real-time would help make journeys less anxious whilst reducing air and noise pollution rates through less traffic in city centres.
Increasing confidence through access to information was also part of improved Vocal/speech assistants during travel. Such spoken information was welcomed by those with limited sight and those who found it challenging to read signage as it changed or because it was blocked from view, such as those viewing from the height of a wheelchair.
Such technology could offer more than stop announcements, live information about congestion and the surrounding area was valued, and pointers about the best way to leave the vehicle or station for those with limited mobility. One user described this as being a little like an audio description for the real world, delivered through a mobile phone to a headset, reducing disturbance to other passengers when travelling.
These speech assistants suggest that personal and wearable technologies had a lot to offer to travellers with a disability, and the use of Smart bracelets, a wristband which allowed users to pay for travel upon boarding and communicated to the vehicle that a longer boarding time was required had great potential. Such bands have been available in some locations already, and both reduce the problems of accessible ticketing systems. Users are charged as they board and disembark a vehicle and do not have to deal with the difficulties of accessing kiosks or ticketing systems. As with other technologies, there could be benefits to any user by reducing the risk of missing journeys or travelling illegally due to unintended errors when booking.
Such a personal wearable linked to an account and credit card to approve payments based on passing a gate or beacon at the beginning and end of a journey was one application of wearable technology. A second was using the same wearable to facilitate access to the vehicles themselves. This might allow a wearer to open the vehicle’s doors or activate a powered ramp to board or leave, especially during an emergency. It might link to the “audio described” assistants but offering the same information in text on a screen or by vibrating to tell someone to leave the vehicle at the next stop. Wearable technology could be the basis of knowledge and a means of communication, notifying the driver or vehicle manager that a disabled user is boarding and ensuring they are aware of what accommodations they should make.
Thinking to the future, new forms of wearable were seen as providing new opportunities for people with a disability; Smart Glasses could still further facilitate access to vehicles by providing additional information about the vehicle and its facilities. Smart glasses could be used to help find accessible spaces onboard a train, locate accessible toilets or show the location and direction of approaching transport as you wait.
All the forms of wearable offered a means of giving control to engage remotely controlled powered ramps to help board vehicles on demand. Whether by selecting a command to deploy the ramp or using location information to deploy ramps automatically, the system would allow users to access when they are near a door to enable self-boarding and exit, offering independence and less reliance on additional assistance staff.
Some of the wearable technologies discussed draw upon opportunities offered by augmented reality applications. Such applications could greatly benefit people with entirely different needs, including those with physical, sensory or cognitive needs. AR would help enhance the physical world rather than isolating the user from that environment. The more information that a person has, in as digestible a form as possible, the greater their confidence in the journey ahead.
Many of these incremental ideas build upon current technologies. Finding new ways to apply those technologies demonstrated that much is possible. Whilst there were always problems in implementing the technology, the technology was not the barrier if the will and desire to make changes were in place.