Development of AccessPath: A pedestrian wayfinding tool tailored towards wheelchair users and individuals with visual impairments
This study developed a pedestrian wayfinding application (app) called AccessPath tailored towards people with disabilities based on their abilities to navigate sidewalks and pedestrian pathways. AccessPath is a free mobile app that takes into account the pathway network, quality of routes, route geometry, and customizable user settings when suggesting detailed, turn-by-turn directions of a recommended pedestrian route. People with disabilities were included in discussions from the beginning of the project to refine each app feature and key design components. Four focus groups were conducted, one representing each of the following disabilities: mobility impairment, visual impairment, cognitive disability, and hearing impairment. In Phase 2, a survey was conducted with people with disabilities to understand which features should be prioritized in future development efforts. This prioritized feature development helped to identify the features to be included during Phase 2. Sidewalk conditions such as tripping hazards, roughness, running slope, cross slope, imagery, and geo-location were collected using a multi-sensor rolling sidewalk profiling tool along approximately 60 miles of pathway in Pittsburgh, PA and 50 miles of pathway in Washington, DC. In addition, to test scalability, data along 50 linear miles were collected in Portland, OR using aerial imagery. A tool that facilitates ‘crowdsourcing’ of sidewalk attributes was also developed and thousands of sidewalk attributes have been collected by pedestrians in cities across the U.S. and in a select number of cities internationally. AccessPath can be used for pre-trip planning or real-time navigation. The app enables users to submit reports about hazards, construction, accessible entrances, and the level of accessibility indoors, which facilitates information sharing among users of the app. The app provides other important features such as favorites, alerts, recent paths, What’s Around Me, and VoiceOver/TalkBack compatibility. An extension of the development phase for the app included an Application Programming Interface (API) comprised of three sections allowing others to implement accessible routing features into their own custom apps: Routing, Locations, and Users APIs.
This study led to the following lessons learned.
- It is important to conduct appropriate quality assurance on data especially when it is from a third-party source. Data accuracy is very important in determining the best route for a user.
- Crowdsourced data can be valuable in the apps’ ability to scale. User-reported data via the app can provide important pathway condition data directly from users. This data can be used to alert pedestrians to obstructions or even impassable segments such as major hazards or construction. If done correctly, crowdsourcing can quickly scale data collection and thus the value of the app to users.
- It is important to manage focus group feedback and make a prioritized list of features to include in future development efforts. This list should be kept up-to-date.
- It is important to have a complete set of pathway data within a particular area of interest. This means that the data is comprised of a connected map of sidewalks, crosswalks, pathways, curb ramps, and similar data to create a network. If data is created neighborhood by neighborhood, navigation will only work within each neighborhood and not with a larger city.
- Testing the app with end users should be a continuous part of the development process. The testing protocol should be clearly identified to understand what is being tested, how it will be tested, and how it will pass or fail. It is also important to continually test on multiple phone models with several end users for bug fixes.
- Keep end users continually involved in the development process to avoid overlooking important accessibility features. It is important to develop a systematic approach for reaching full accessibility and total inclusion of all users.
- Develop a thorough plan and thorough documentation throughout the development process to keep track of any issues and testing methods.
- Keep the conversations with end users focused. Although the concept of asking general questions can be extremely valuable, specific and previously prepared questions add value to focus group studies by providing more detail about what participants are thinking.