A mobile phone app that helps wheelchair users find the best routes to travel based on their ability is being developed by researchers at Wollongong.
In an Australian first, researchers have developed the application that shows wheelchair users the best routes to travel around the University of Wollongong campus.
They say the Navability app could revolutionise the way wheelchair users get around.
Jason Jones, who has struggled with hereditary spastic paraplegia for the past two decades, has helped to develop the program
Since 2014 the 45-year-old’s condition has progressively worsened, forcing him to use a wheelchair.
Mr Jones said the app would make a huge difference to the everyday lives of people with a disability, making it easier for them to get around and socialise.
“This month I went to a Sydney McDonald’s and this one had stairs going into it. How does a person in a wheelchair get there?” he said.
“Now I can log places that aren’t accessible and people will know not to go there.”
A more accessible world for wheelchair users
The brainchild of Briometrix, the app aims to make moving around easier and safer for people with a disability by translating wheelchair user generated data into navigation routes.
The app uses location-based technology in Google Maps and monitors exercise, to create routes based on a person’s ability to propel and manoeuvre a wheelchair.
“Measuring the actual effort that somebody takes to push a wheelchair, it starts to measure combining all of those parameters,” University of Wollongong associate professor Robert Gorkin said.
“Running a specific algorithm on that, it provides the best route for your specific condition or ability.”
Briometrix co-founder Natalie Verdon created a small mountable sensor device, which measures 40 physical movements of a user and has three different settings — easy, medium and hard.
“In our research we discovered four out of five wheelchair users had not been anywhere new in the last year, and the main reason was the unreliability of accessibility information,” Ms Verdon said.
“Every respondent had a horror story of travelling accessible routes or venues, only to find it was not suitable for their needs.
“Respondents said they would most trust a person with the same condition or ability.”
For wheelchair users, going up and down hills can be a big problem, but the app shows going down a hill as a different colour to going up a hill.
“This app will actually show which restaurants and locations are wheelchair friendly, so we aren’t rolling around looking for the disabled toilet,” Mr Jones said.
Ambitions to go global
Developers say there is a gap in the market for infrastructure for people with a disability.
“This should have already been done. There’s a subset of the population that can’t use the existing maps,” Mr Gorkin said.
“It goes beyond finding a disabled toilet or parking space, but how you can get places.”
The more people that use the application and contribute information, the larger the area covered.
“The idea is to go global, so to move from a campus to a city to a country to everywhere,” Mr Gorkin said.
From here, designers are looking to integrate the program with Google Maps, then potentially other tools such as TripAdvisor.
While still in the pilot phase, it is hoped the Navability app will be rolled out over the next year.
It will also incorporate health and fitness features for wheelchair users, and it aims to benefit carers and people travelling with prams.