Technology for Travel Training

Technology based on GPS is just beginning to fulfill it's potential for people with developmental disabilities to travel on public transit independently.

Mobile devices with GPS, the ability to talk, maps, and access to public transit schedules have obvious potential for supporting individuals with cognitive disabililties in planning, executing, and feeling confident about navigating public transportation. 

One of the first to market was the WayFinder, a SmartPhone-based software program from AbleLink Technologies.  WayFinder provides personalized guidance to individuals to successfully navigate a transportation route using audio and visual cues generated based on their GPS location. WayFinder can help users walk to the bus stop and take the bus to school or work, and then follow a similar route back home. An optional tracking feature is available as well that allows a family member, caregiver or other person to track the exact location of a WayFinder user in real time via instant messaging and Google Maps. A journal article from 2010, Evaluating a GPS-Based Transportation Device to Support Independent Bus Travel by People With Intellectual Disability, reports that "73% of study participants with intellectual disability were able to identify the correct destination bus stop, ring the bell at the proper time, and then exit the bus at the right location as compared with only 8% of the control group participants. This finding is particularly striking given that it was observed for people attempting to follow a bus route for the first time and get off the bus at a previously unknown location combined with challenges of using a new technology device for the first time. In addition, 3 of the 8 participants who successfully rang the bell and exited the bus at the correct bus stop reported that this was the first time they had ever ridden any city bus."

Coming soon is the TAD – Travel Assistance Mobile App - developed at the National Center for Transit Research, University of South Florida. It's designed specifially for travel training. The TAD app will downloaded to a cell phones to provide voice and text prompts. These prompts will be delivered to the rider in a “just-in-time” method such as triggering the phone to ring, vibrate or deliver an audio message when the rider should pull the stop cord. Automated alarms can be triggered and the Travel Trainer and/or parent/guardian remotely alerted in case a rider wanders off their pre-determined path. It will be sold by Dajuta.

Transit agencies are developing mobile apps that provide access to real time transit information and may also include turn by turn directions for finding a bus stop. The Portland Regional Trip Planner TriMet and 511.org for the San Francisco Bay Area are examples. TriMet tells you which bus or train to catch, where and when to board, where and when to transfer if needed, how long it will take and what it will cost, walking directions to and from your stop(s), and shows maps of your origin and destination. Their TransitTracker let's you know how soon the bus will arrive. The free 511 Transit App is designed for iPhone 4 (and later), and Android and provides information for more than 30 public transit agencies.

Apps using Google maps and other resources are also being developed. If you have a travel app that would work well for people with developmental disabilities, let us know.

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