Mobility and mobilising with public transport

Front view of a Queensland Rail train at a station. It says Ipswich on the LED displayMaking the transition from driving to using other transportation options can be difficult – not least of all because many options were not designed with older people in mind. Transport policies, equipment and systems have been focused on journeys to work, not the day to day needs of older people and others not in the workforce. Introduction to Senior Transportation considers the physical and cognitive limitations of older adult passengers, the challenges in meeting their needs, and the transportation methods that do and do not currently meet their needs. The chapters in this book cover transitioning from driving, strategies and tactics, volunteer driver programs, technology and transportation, and ageing policy and transport, among many other topics. 

Introduction to Senior Transportation: Enhancing Community Mobility and Transportation Services is by By Helen K. Kerschner, Nina M. Silverstein and is available from Routledge.  

 

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Public transport and wheeled mobility

A woman is pushing a man in a wheelchair up a ramp into the train. The train guard looks on. Another woman in a wheelchair waits for her turn. A man with a stroller is also in the picture.Research on the real spatial requirements of wheeled mobility devices has been done several times in the past. But when it comes to developing standards to suit a wider user group, somehow those measurements get lost in translation. However, the world is moving on. The population is ageing (more mobility scooters) and people using wheelchairs of all sizes are able to get out and about more. Public transport has to keep up. To this end an interactive web tool has been developed to determine the dimensions of clear floor area to incorporate more users of wheeled mobility devices. The title of this important article explains the tool, Revisiting Clear Floor Area Requirements for Wheeled Mobility Device Users in Public Transportation. The article is not open source so needs institutional access (or purchase), but here is a section from the abstract:

“The web-based design tool is now available to practitioners who seek to accommodate a wider range of WhMD [wheeled mobility device] users than the minimum standards required by regulations. The design tool is also intended as a visual evidence base for regulatory activity and universal design practice with higher ambitions. The advent of driverless automated vehicles will increase the importance of accessibility and usability to accommodate the diversity of riders with disabilities. Clear floor space to enable independent ingress, interior circulation and egress among WhMD users will be a foremost concern. The transportation industry, standards developers, disability advocates, mobility device manufacturers and prescribers need to understand the limitations of current accessibility standards and work to address these limitations through updated vehicle design standards and policies. 

 

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Older drivers want universal design

View through a car windscreen to a country road with one car in front.Technology to assist drivers is not always user tested on older people who are more likely to have a decline in cognition and perception. Developers who wanted to develop an smart phone app specifically to help older drivers soon found that they didn’t want a special or segregated application just for them. The developers eventually found that by applying universal design principles to their design, it was useful for drivers of all ages. After adopting UD principles in development they were able to change the name from Older Driver Support System to Road Coach. The article is a long technical road safety report from University of Minnesota, but the executive summary and conclusions provide most of the key detail. You can skim read the rest unless you are a road safety person. The title of the paper is Older Driver Support System (ODSS) Usability and Design Investigation.  

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Google Maps en route for access

Picture showing the level access from the platform into the trainGoogle has officially introduced wheelchair-accessible transit routes in Google Maps. It will help people moving with wheels to get around more easily – assuming there is an easy option.  Similar ideas and apps have been developed elsewhere. However Google Maps already has such widespread use, any other apps will need to focus on niche conditions and areas. We might have to wait a little longer for the Google Maps app to include Australia, but they claim to be adding this feature world wide. Here is an excerpt from their blog on the official launch:

Google maps icon“Google Maps was built to help people navigate and explore the world, providing  directions, worldwide, to people traveling by car, bicycle or on foot. But in city centers, buses and trains are often the best way to get around, which presents a challenge for people who use wheelchairs or with other mobility needs. Information about which stations and routes are wheelchair friendly isn’t always readily available or easy to find. To make public transit work for everyone, today we’re introducing “wheelchair accessible” routes in transit navigation to make getting around easier for those with mobility needs.”  

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Autonomous vehicles: will they be universally designed?

A small black and white pod shaped vehicleDriverless vehicles are being trialled across the world and that includes Australia. Developing regulations that keep up with technology is just one concern for policy makers. But what about users – will they get a say in the design of the technology? Autonomous vehicles will be a major mobility solution for those who are currently excluded from driving. This makes it essential to include them in the development of the technology, the interfaces with the technology and the vehicles themselves. For anyone interested in the progress of this topic, research by Amanatidis, Langdon and Clarkson is worth a look. Their paper, Inclusivity Consideration for Fully Autonomous Vehicle User Interfaces reports on their preliminary work. The paper was presented at the annual Cambridge Workshop on Universal Access and Assistive Technology CWUAAT 2018. Published by SpringerLink it requires institutional access or you can purchase. 

Abstract: Autonomous vehicles could become an important part of the mobility solution for members of society previously excluded from driving. This paper presents the results of an interview study on users’ needs and expectations of fully autonomous vehicles, and specifically on the inclusivity considerations that emerged. Six drivers and two individuals that are currently excluded from driving participated in this study. The main finding was that conventional multimodal interfaces would indeed enable a broader range of users to operate these vehicles. However, fundamental considerations such as the accessibility of displays and easy ingress/egress were of equal importance. We hope the emerging recommendations would form part of an inclusive set of user requirements to be taken into account by industry and academia when designing fully autonomous vehicle user interfaces. 

The picture is a prototype by RDM Group. 

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Smart pedestrians for smart cities?

A wide pedestrian crossing covering four lanes of trafficePedestrians who can’t see or can’t reach the pedestrian control button at traffic lights might not need to worry any more. In Edinburgh the problem has been solved with an app. No special cards (as in Hong Kong) needed to activate the pedestrian signal. And no special adaptations to the signal system either. The BBC Youtube video with captions explains how. The technology can also be used for finding the reception desk in large buildings with large open spaces. No doubt there will be other applications yet to be thought of.

Note: In the UK, people with disability prefer to be called “disabled people”.

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A Wheelie Good App

Three manual wheelchair users with their phonesGetting around a university campus is not always the easiest task for new visitors or students. For wheelchair users the task is all the more difficult usually due to uneven topography – steep slopes and lots of steps or long ramps. The University of Wollongong is piloting an App to help navigate the campus, which can then be applied to other places. Using UOW’s Wollongong campus as a pilot study, Briometrix will translate wheelchair-user-generated data into navigation routes on its Navability App, which will show the best routes for wheelchair users based on their relative ability to propel a wheelchair. Each time a user logs-on and makes a journey, the collected data will update the app ensure it reflects any changes in the built environment. Combining the location-based technology used in Google Maps and exercise monitors with new information specific to a wheelchair experience, the project has the potential to create a new understanding of life on campus and the wider world. It will be interesting to see how this evolves. 

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The road to good design

An aerial view of a winding road through a wooded area.How much design thought goes into roads and highway? Is it just left to engineers, or are other designers involved? Seems times are changing and a bit more thought is going into roads in the UK. The Design Council has an article that lists the ten principles of good road design that include words such as inclusive and sustainable. The principles were adopted at the recommendation of the Highways England Strategic Design Panel and follow the themes of people, places and processes:

  1. makes roads safe and useful
  2. is inclusive
  3. makes roads understandable
  4. fits in context
  5. is restrained
  6. is environmentally sustainable
  7. is thorough
  8. is innovative
  9. is collaborative
  10. is long-lasting

Highways England espouses lofty ideals: “We aim to put people at the heart of our work by designing an inclusive, resilient and sustainable road network; appreciated for its usefulness but also its elegance, reflecting in its design the beauty of the natural, built and historic environment through which it passes, and enhancing it where possible.”  

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What a difference a car makes

Shows a man on a modified ag bike just about to take off.Vehicle modifications allow many people with physical disability to drive their own vehicles and get on with life in the same way as non-disabled people. There are two parts to this post: an academic article by Simon Darcy on private modified vehicles, and a practical video by IDEAS showcasing the benefits of modifications for two individuals. The video, alarmingly, also shows the amount of NDIS money spent on vehicle modifications in the last few years. Time for the vehicle design industry to wake up and design better for adaption? Nicely put together video reminds everyone of what can be achieved with the right equipment and a well designed environment.

The article by Simon Darcy and Paul Francis Burke is titled, On the road again: The barriers and benefits of automobility for people with disability.  It looks at private vehicles rather than public transport. See down the page for the abstract .

Abstract: The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (PWD) has been signed by over 160 nations to achieve greater social participation, with public and private transport clearly identified as an area to improve accessibility. Whilst the majority of scholarly work has focused on public transport needs, less research has examined the barriers or benefits of access to private modified vehicles for PWD. In this exploratory study, a Delphi technique with health experts, researchers, drivers and funding agencies developed an instrument to examine the barriers and benefits of access to private modified vehicles for PWD. An online survey was completed by 287 drivers and carers to report on barriers to private modified vehicles, whilst a sub-set of 190 drivers with access to a private modified vehicle reported on experientially derived benefits. A factor analytic approach identified how financial and informational barriers vary with respect to several characteristics including disability type and level of support needs. Factors relating to independence, social and recreational benefits are perceived as more valued experientially derived benefits relative to benefits relating to employability and ability to enjoy downtime. Benefits in the form of independence are greater among drivers and owners, those with an acquired condition, less complex mobility and everyday support needs, whilst little difference emerged in terms of the social and downtime benefits. The findings inform policy development and funding opportunities to provide insight and evidence into the barriers, but also benefits and variation in private transport needs among PWD.

You will need institutional access or be a member of ResearchGate for a free read. It can be purchased from Science Direct.

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Joined up Journeys

Front cover of the document with the Australian Government logo in white against a dark blue banded background and pictures of a bus ramp and yellow tgsi on station platformsThe Australian Government’s publication, The Whole Journey guide is the result of a consultation process early in 2017. This is a guide for thinking beyond compliance to create accessible public transport journeys. With over 50 pages it is comprehensive and a useful document for planners, designers, policy makers, certifiers, operators and users of public transport. The key message is that standards provide minimum requirements, but “there is a great deal more to accessibility than just compliance with the standards.” There are links to other useful documents in the publication. George Xinos writes in Sourceable that another review of Transport Standards is due soon. 

Citing the National Disability Strategy, the Guide explains universal design by referencing Audirac’s article Accessing Transit as Universal Design, (2008), which is in the context of the American’s with Disabilities Act.  

Accessible design: designing for equal useability for people with a diversity of abilities with regard to mobility, facilities, devices and services, and incorporating disability access standards.
Inclusive design: designing products and services for the needs of the widest possible audience, irrespective of age or ability.
User-centred design: placing users’ perspectives and needs at the centre of the design process
Barrier-free design: constructing or retro-fitting infrastructure and vehicles to eliminate barriers and obstacles that would otherwise restrict the range of users and purposes for which the space can be used
Trans-generational design: improving quality of life for people of all ages and abilities, both now and into the future
Assistive technology: engineering that enables people with a range of abilities to complete tasks by enhancing physical, sensory and cognitive abilities

Picture showing the level access from the platform into the train

Audirac’s publication is almost ten years old, but the list adds to the notion that universal design embraces diversity, and should therefore embrace diverse ways of explaining it

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