Hardly a day goes by without a new technology disrupting an entire industry. New or innovative applications of existing technologies are changing the way we live, commute and interact. It is also driving a quiet, yet powerful disruption for persons with disabilities, improving quality of life and enhancing independent living. In recent years, there has been a veritable explosion in adaptive and assistive technologies enhancing mobility and accessibility for people with disabilities.

According to data from Statistics Canada, [1] 1 in 7 Canadians over the age of 15 reported having a disability that limits their daily activities. That’s 3.8 million people, nearly 15% of the Canadian population. Disabilities range from limits to mobility, dexterity, hearing, seeing, memory as well as chronic pain, mental or psychological, learning and development. Look a little closer and we find that 1 in 5 persons with a disability rely upon public transit or specialized transit and 80% use at least one aid or assistive device. [2]

So, imagine, you have a hearing or visual impairment and need to use the subway as transit? Or perhaps you have a physical condition that limits your mobility or ability to climb stairs but rely upon the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) as your main mode of transit. A seemingly simple and daily activity becomes complicated and requires significant planning.  But, what if you had a device that helps you navigate your trip: providing station specific updates, information on crowding or congestion levels, elevator access or real time service updates?

Assistive and adaptive technologies are breaking down barriers for persons with disabilities, but they require reliable cellular connectivity.

From way-finding to beacon powered service updates, today’s technology disruptors are carving out new possibilities for persons with disabilities. Imagine planning your commute based on capacity levels and peak times. For example, the 7:45 am Northbound Line 1 subway is at or near full capacity levels but 20 minutes later, the subway is at half capacity. If you have a physical disability you may try to delay your transit time to travel in a less congested train.

In 2015, Google launched the Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities [3] for the 1 billion people living with disabilities worldwide. They pledged $20 million to 29 non-profits that are using technology to take on a wide range of accessibility challenges. For example, Wheelmap won a grant for their work on a global dataset of public places with accessible locations for people with disabilities and Project Ray Smartphone are working on a vision-free smartphone.

Here in Toronto, the CNIB are running a pilot project at the St. Clair West station that uses beacon technology to emit information – way finding, service updates to apps on mobile devices. The possibilities are limitless but like all technologies that improve our quality of life, you need to have wireless connectivity.  That’s why transit authorities around the world are investing in building out networks: to become more accessible you need to be connected. Having access to a reliable wireless network for TTC commuters with disabilities reduces barriers, increases mobility and independence. Building a more inclusive and accessible transit system enhances the quality of life for all commuters

[1] https://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-654-x/89-654-x2015001-eng.htm#a8

[2] https://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-654-x/89-654-x2015001-eng.htm#n10

[3] https://www.google.org/impactchallenge/disabilities/