Urbanization is on the rise – and a majority of people now live in cities. According to the World Health Organization, people with disabilities (PwDs) make up about 15% (about 1 billion people) of the world’s population1. Governments are implementing disability civil rights laws, driven by developments such as the UN Convention on the Rights of PwDs2, which require states to implement policies that support personal mobility. Accessible tourism3 is another phenomenon aiming to ensure destinations are barrier-free and that accessible transportation exists in communities.
As a result, there is growing interest in mobile applications to support accessible transportation. While there are many mobile travel-related apps available today, little attention has been paid to serving the needs of PwDs, even though apps designed for PwDs are valuable to many people, including those with temporary physical impairments, young children and aging family members.
IBM has successfully implemented Smarter Transportation solutions in many cities. In developing Access My N.Y.C., IBM applied its experience from these projects to the emerging area of accessible transportation apps.
What the app does
The Access My N.Y.C. pilot app integrated geo-location and mapping technologies with transportation/POI (Point of Interest) accessibility data and demonstrated how such an app can help people:
The app was web-based and easily accessed using an iPhone®, iPad®, Android™ phone, and many tablet, desktop or laptop computer web browsers during the pilot period.
Meeting market requirements
In March 2011, the Geo-Access Challenge Team released a report called, "Data-Enabled Travel: How Geo-Data Can Support Inclusive Transportation, Tourism, and Navigation through Communities4." This report outlined the user needs related to accessible transportation that deserve exploration, offered some proposed data requirements for accessible transportation, and described some application types useful for accessible transportation. IBM served as the editor of this report and as a key participant on the Geo-Access Challenge Team.
In response to this report and other industry developments, and as part of its 2011 Centennial celebration, IBM aimed to create a demo app useful to a variety of users, including visitors to and residents of New York City, and users who have vision, hearing or mobility impairments.
Design and development
A team of IBM developers from Canada, Italy, France, Brazil and the US worked together to design the app. Some key requirements for the app included:
The team selected a touch-optimized web framework for smart phones and tablets, as the mobile web development tool. Built upon semantic HTML, this framework allowed the team to design a single highly branded and customized web application that worked on most popular smartphone and tablet platforms. Many of the framework components leverage techniques such as focus management, keyboard navigation, and HTML attributes specified in WAI-ARIA8.
The development team used an iterative UXP design approach. After developing the architecture, the team mocked up the UI using the framework prior to functional integration. This allowed them to iteratively test the UI for accessibility and address many design challenges – e.g., achieving consistent designs/global navigation, implementing semantic HTML, and automatic focus movement on page loading.
The team used the IBM Intelligent Pervasive Platform (IPP) – an open web services framework built on IBM Websphere® and DB2® – to seamlessly deliver static and real-time information and services to mobile users, based on their profile and their location9.
Early versions of the app were tested by a sampling of IBM employees, including employees who have disabilities. The app was then demonstrated during the IBM THINK Exhibit, with the disabilities community and general public invited to provide feedback.
1World report on disability, produced jointly by WHO and the World Bank
2United Nations ENABLE. UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
3Wikipedia. Entry for "Accessible Tourism", accessed October 11, 2011
4Geo-Access Challenge Team. "Data-Enabled Travel: How Geo-Data Can Support Inclusive Transportation, Tourism, and Navigation through Communities", March 2011
5Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C), Mobile Web Best Practices v1.0
6Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C). Web Content Accessibility Guidelines v2.0
7A native app must be installed on the device, while a Web app resides on server and is accessed via the Internet.
8Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C). Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA) v1.0
9IBM Human Centric Solutions. IBM Intelligent Pervasive Platform (IPP)