The AT&T Connect Ability Challenge is a competition for leveraging mobile technologies to improve the lives of people living with disabilities. Having the opportunity to help millions of people with disabilities around the world, we took the initiative and created a software solution to empower their lives.
This article will describe our experience with developing such an application. Currently you can only find applications showing points of interest with accessibility on the map but no applications for people with disabilities to navigate on the App Store. WheelNav combines these two features and for the best navigation experience, it uses the Scout SDK.
Our iOS application is called "WheelNav". As its name describes, it combines information about wheelchair-accessible places and navigation.
Points of interest
Let us talk first about the accessible places part. It is a very big problem that some places are not accessible for people using wheelchairs. Either the entrance step is too high or there are no disabled toilets available. Instead of implementing a service which attaches this kind of information to places, we decided to use an open source service called http://wheelmap.org. It is a service which is used to search, find and mark wheelchair-accessible places all around the world. Their API enables developers to interact with wheelchair accessible places.
We grabbed this information and displayed it on the map. We are differentiating 4 types of places, each displayed with different colours:
From the top left menu, users can select the accessibility of POIs to be displayed on the map.
The top right button opens a menu for selecting which categories of POIs to be presented. Currently WheelNav supports the following categories:
The users of the app can review further information about these places and have the possibility to change the accessibility of the place, if they consider that the current accessibility attached to the place is wrong.
This feature improves the quality of the accessibility data given back to the community. Taking into consideration the accessibility of the places, it's possible to plan whole journeys from home, to meet with friends only at accessible places, to visit other cities knowing which places are accessible.
Searching for locations is possible from the search bar located at the top of the screen. It retrieves results from the POIs on the map and matching addresses.
Selecting a result from the list will center the map to the location of the result showing a callout.
The other big component of the app is navigation. We tried to customize the whole navigation experience for people using wheelchairs. WheelNav offers the possibility to create routes from the current position of the user to any other position on the map.
In order to implement the navigation experience for people forced in wheelchairs, we integrated the Scout iOS SDK. The routes are calculated taking into consideration the altitudes of the positions along the route, so it provides the fastest and smoothest routes to the user's destination.
Entering in navigation the user gets visual and audio turn by turn information. Our target was to give a hands free experience to users. Following the instructions of the audio guidance component, this can be easily achieved.
WheelNav also offers a solution to another common problem when some areas of the city, parts of the streets are blocked. In this case, it's very hard to know on which street to go forward. Using the block road feature of the app, the engine will re-route the user and help him get to the desired place.
The navigation settings screen can be accessed by tapping the map and selecting the "Settings" option from the action sheet. Here users can turn off the audio, change the map style to night mode, see an overview and information about the route, report a blocked road, enter panning mode, select from 2D and 3D display of the map or quit the navigation.
With the feedback provided by our end users and friends, we improved the app and we got to a production ready state. The following steps are to implement a voice recognition component, in order to ensure that the application is fully hands free, cluster the POIs and use the RealReach feature from the Scout iOS SDK. In the near future, the application will appear on the App Store, and we hope that it will help to improve the life of many people.
A demo of the application and information about the challenge can be found on the Challengepost website.
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