“This is my freedom, my independence!” These are the words of Ethan, a young man with developmental disabilities, following his graduation from a specialized travel training program to learn to use Indianapolis’ IndyGo fixed route bus system. Ethan was referring to his ability to use AbleLink WayFinder (Wayfinder), a community mobility support app from AbleLink Smart Living Technologies. Ethan was trained on the app so that he could learn the bus route to his internship at a local community hospital. Like many others, Ethan’s world has changed forever as he is no longer dependent on paratransit services to access his community.
The State of Tennessee has also embraced WayFinder and other assistive technologies in numerous projects over the past several years. One of the first participants in the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities’ (TN DIDD) Community Inclusion Pilot Project, Kenny Pittman of Chattanooga, used WayFinder to successfully learn the bus route to his place of employment. When asked what being able to work meant to him, Kenny summarized his thoughts with a single word that many of us can relate to: “Money!”
The AbleLink WayFinder app and ecosystem of management tools are the result of a series of research and development projects from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research, the National Institutes of Health, and the US Department of Transportation. WayFinder uses GPS technology and a universal design approach to provide personalized audible, visual, text, and haptic (the use of technology that stimulates the senses of touch and motion) prompts to guide users through a travel route. For example, personal route instructions might include GPS-based directions for foot travel from a user’s front door to a bus stop, followed by on-board navigation prompts for landmarks, travel status, and when to signal a stop and exit a bus. These cues could be followed by a final set of instructions that guide the traveler from the bus stop to their destination. Routes are created either by traveling the route while marking GPS waypoints and creating corresponding audio, text, and image instructions (via the WayFinder app’s built-in Route Builder utility), or by using a companion web application to build the route virtually.
As part of TN DIDD’s commitment to Enabling Technology, AbleLink’s cognitively accessible survey tool, ATLAS, was deployed to give individuals the opportunity to use their own voice in directly expressing their desires and opinions. Through ATLAS, approximately 140 people with intellectual and development disabilities expressed their satisfaction with various aspects of their residential, employment, and community access services and experiences.
Tennessee is embracing several other AbleLink solutions in a variety of settings around the State. These include the Smart Living Mobile Suite, which provides mobile apps to support independence in maintaining personal schedules, along with a multimedia instructional system that utilizes video modeling and universal design to provide step-by-step support in completing activities of daily living. Another example of Tennessee’s progressive effort to improve lives through access to technology has been the development and implementation of a localized version of the Smart Living Desktop Suite, AbleLink’s pioneering software for Windows. This version of the software was customized specifically for users in Tennessee and includes state-specific information on COVID-related news, safety, and social engagement. The Smart Living Desktop Suite, now in its third generation, provides individually customized computer desktop experiences and enables greater independence for engaging in email, web browsing, media playing, and more.
AbleLink is supporting TN DIDD’s Pre-Employment Technology Pilot Project with the ATLAS-based JobQuest service. JobQuest is a web-based tool that enables individuals to view short video clips of various work tasks and select the ones they like best. Once the career interest survey is completed, a series of reports are then immediately available indicating the job categories and tasks that were most preferred—as well as those that were not.
The cognitive support technologies being deployed in these various projects are all examples of Tennessee’s efforts to add yet another set of tools to the toolbox in support of people with cognitive disabilities. These efforts have also served to demonstrate that people with IDD and other cognitive disabilities can use technology developed with universal design approaches to provide access to the same benefits typically available to other citizens of Tennessee. AbleLink Smart Living Technologies has been conducting research and development of technologies designed to enable greater independence and confidence for people with cognitive disabilities since 1997.