A blind woman uses Evelity, an assistive technology device, to find her bearings

Assistive Technology for People with Disabilities: Is Human Assistance Really Obsolete for Their Mobility?

 

Assistive technology for people with disabilities aims at removing accessibility barriers. This represents a central element regarding their mobility. In this article, we’ll focus only on assistive technologies that make their getting around easier. But they can be found in other aspects of their life. 

When getting around or finding their bearings, assistive technology can often replace human assistance. Airports or train stations provide human assistance that users with disabilities can book to make sure their trip goes smoothly. However, there can be limits to what this service actually does. That’s where assistive technology takes place: it can offset what human assistance may lack.

What can assistive technology actually do to help people with disabilities get around with autonomy? Can navigation assistance entirely replace human assistance? Let’s figure this out!

What is assistive technology for people with disabilities and what can it do for their mobility?

Assistive technology, also called AT, refers to assistive, adaptive and rehabilitative devices designed for people with disabilities and the elderly. These groups of people encounter difficulties in activities of daily living. They may need assistance to bathe, dress, eat or get around. 

Thanks to assistive technology, they regain more autonomy and independence. For people with learning disabilities, they can use educational softwares that help them read, learn and remain organized. They consist of text readers, notetakers and organization tools.

What interests us here is assistive technology for people with disabilities and their mobility. By mobility, we mean getting around in the city, a venue or a public transportation with the most spontaneity and autonomy possible. Something they wouldn’t be able to do without assistive technology. 

Because after all, assistive technology enables people with disabilities to regain more control on their everyday life. Wheelchairs can be seen as assistive technology. Users with motor disabilities need a wheelchair to go to work or buy their groceries. We can find manual or electric wheelchairs but they’re evolving to meet the needs of their users. Some are designed to climb stairs for example. 

Depending on people’s disabilities, mobility can be more or less challenging. A blind person will encounter more difficulties where a deaf person won’t be as obstructed. How can a visually impaired person locate the exact entrance of a venue? When there’s no audio beacon and no tactile guide path, they need to be accompanied by someone or to ask a passerby for some help. A hearing impaired person will meet less difficulty as they’ll rely on pictograms or signs to reach the entrance. 

What remains important is guaranteeing a seamless mobility chain. A key notion for all types of users but that’s even more important for those with disabilities. Implementing a seamless mobility chain means that all links are connected to each other to provide accessibility all along the way.

For a blind person going to work, this means the public transit they use and its potential connection need to be accessible, from A to point C. In this case, wayfinding and navigation systems such as apps are more efficient than human assistance. They can get to their destination with more autonomy.

What types of navigation apps are part of assistive technology for people with disabilities?

84% of people with disabilities use a smartphone. That’s why assistive technology is promising to enhance accessibility and inclusion. More and more apps are created to help people with disabilities get around with more spontaneity and more independence.

Let’s take a look at navigation systems specially conceived to improve their mobility:

NaviLens: a Spanish company that uses QR codes to guide blind and visually impaired people. They just need to follow tactile guide paths and scan the QR codes with their smartphone camera for navigation instructions. For now, Barcelona’s public transit and the Murcia tram are equipped with NaviLens as well as the archaeological museum of Murcia.

NavChair: another Spanish company but for wheelchair users this time. This navigation and autopilot system enables them to avoid obstacles along their route. They can get a step-free route to make sure their needs are met.

Evelity: an indoor navigation app conceived by accessibility French company Okeenea. The app focuses on all types of disabilities. It adapts to the user’s profile. This means that wheelchair users have access to obstacle-free routes and that blind and visually impaired users have step by step instructions thanks to a screen reader. The Marseilles metro in France is equipped with Evelity and the solution is currently being tested at the JaySt-MetroTech station in New York City

Assistive technology for the mobility of people with disabilities enters into phygital experiences. Phygital is a bridge connecting the physical world with the digital one to provide users with a unique and interactive experience.

What Is a Phygital Experience and How Can It Improve the Accessibility of Your Venue?

Assistive technology follows the same guidelines as phygital: technology by itself isn’t the solution to enhance accessibility. It needs:

Physical accessibility: technology is pointless without accessible equipment within accessible venues. A wheelchair user won’t be able to use their navigation app in a venue that doesn’t have access ramps or elevators. What’s the point of using an innovative navigation app if they can’t get inside the venue?  

Users with disabilities: technology is a means to an end. The goal of assistive technology is to enhance the mobility of people with disabilities. It serves them. We need to keep in mind that the ultimate goal of assistive technology is to make their lives easier to get around. It’s not developing new technologies for the sake of it. People with disabilities need to be at the heart of assistive technology.

The combination of both elements is how assistive technology for people with disabilities gains full meaning. 

In what venues can assistive technology for people with disabilities improve their mobility? 

Now that you know that assistive technology for people with disabilities can be a true asset for their mobility, you need to ask yourself where this can be implemented. Where is it more necessary? In what places are people with disabilities struggling the most to get around? 

Basically, this defines complex venues. What’s a complex venue exactly?

It’s a very huge and busy venue with constant comings and goings. In a way, it can be compared to a maze. Complex venues may be more or less challenging for people with disabilities. 

What are their difficulties when navigating inside complex venues?

Accessing information,

Accessing services,

Locating the appropriate entry and exit,

Finding their bearings to go from one point to another,

Dealing with connections in a complex public transport system…

Complex venues are stressful for people with disabilities. Once again, in such places, maintaining a seamless mobility chain is essential. That’s what enables accessibility barriers to be removed.

Complex venues can take many forms:

Public transport like subways,

Multimodal transit centers,

Airports,

Museums,

Shopping malls,

Stadiums,

Business towers,

Colleges and universities,

Hospitals…

People with disabilities may need to use public transit everyday to go to work, to accompany their kids to school… But whether they’re familiar or not with the transit system, assistive technology like navigation apps can be useful for them. 

They benefit from assistive technology to get around in complex environments but also to:

Feel less stressed, 

Gain more time as they’ll find their way around more easily,

Remain autonomous and independent, 

Not to rely on human assistance to reach their destination,

Be in control of their mobility,

Have more spontaneity when they’re getting around,

Not to have to plan every little step they need to make,

Feel like any other person who’s going from one point to another,

Not to be discriminated against,

Not to be perceived as a minority who bothers others,

Be fully included in our society as they should always have been.

In other words, for people with disabilities, assistive technology may be synonymous with freedom. And who doesn’t like to be able to go wherever and whenever they want to? 

Navigation apps like Evelity truly improves the mobility of people with disabilities. The metro of Lille in France has also tested the app. Blind and visually impaired users were impressed with the autonomy that such assistive device enabled them to gain. 

“I felt like I wasn’t alone anymore. We find freedom because we are helped but virtually”, told Annie who is visually impaired. 

Soufiane, a blind man, stated: “I am very interested and I think that we should go beyond the metro.”

From what we gather here, an assistive device for people with disabilities means freedom of movement, the ability to get around by themselves. 

Check out all user testimonies who were guided with Evelity in the Lille metro

Such navigation apps belong in all venues where people with disabilities have difficulties to navigate. Plus in the case of Evelity, it can even become more than just a navigation app.

The Maison Victor Hugo museum in Paris, France chose Evelity to not only guide their visitors with disabilities but to provide content about the depicted works of art and Victor Hugo’s life, a famous French author. The app enables culture to be more accessible. Visitors with disabilities don’t need a tour guide to enjoy the museum. 

What about human assistance?

As you can imagine, all the mentioned complex venues usually provide human assistance with customer service agents at public transits or shopping malls, tour guides at museums or special assistance staff at airports. 

Is this type of service truly helpful for people with disabilities? Wouldn’t a navigation app be more efficient and reliable? If you manage a public transport network or a shopping mall, you need to ask yourself these questions.

What are the benefits of human assistance regarding the mobility of people with disabilities?

Who better than a human to guide another human? There’s empathy, a sense of commitment and dedication to be helpful towards vulnerable people. 

Many venues rely on such services to make sure their customers or users with disabilities are satisfied. After all, if they’re satisfied, they’re more likely to come back and spread the word as well on the quality of service they’ve received.

What are the drawbacks of special assistance services?

On paper, human assistance to guide people with disabilities sounds great but in reality, it may not suit and there are many inconveniences:

The cost of having employees dedicated to one service can be quite high for venues. Their staff could be deployed towards other services and purposes. Plus, a lot of venues outsource which can be costly as well.

The staff may not have enough training to truly meet the needs of people with disabilities. 

If that’s the case, this could be damaging for the venue’s reputation as unsatisfied customers could write bad reviews online.

There’s a lack of spontaneity for people with disabilities who need to book human assistance very early on when planning a trip. 

For a connection, they can’t just make the beginning of the trip by themselves and the rest with the help of staff members. It’s either human assistance all along the way or none at all. This restrains in a way their freedom of movement. 

Are assistive technology for people with disabilities and human assistance truly opposed? 

This could be the 1 million dollar question at this point. What matters here is meeting the needs of people with disabilities without it to be too costly or complicated to manage for venues.

So far, we’ve seen that for their mobility, people with disabilities favor autonomy and independence. But it depends on their capabilities so every person with disabilities is different. In some cases, they may prefer to apprehend a venue by themselves or in others, they may require assistance. 

This means that they need to have the choice: use assistive technology like navigation apps or request the help of a staff member to reach their destination.

Having both options available could make a difference in the way they want to control their mobility. We all like having options and not feel restrained or limited. For people with disabilities who may experience it in several aspects of their everyday lives, having the choice to use technology or to interact with an employee matters. They decide what they need and what’s best for them.

Of course, you need to apply this to your venue and to your users with disabilities: are they more comfortable using technology? Do they prefer asking for help? Is your venue a better fit for assistive devices? Are your human assistance services efficient enough?

You can directly ask what your users with disabilities think about this. They’ll be glad to be involved and think highly of your venue and services. Be aware that assistive technology for people with disabilities keeps evolving to better meet their needs so stay informed on these innovative navigation apps. 

Want to know more about assistive technology for people with disabilities and human assistance? Check out this article: 

Mobility Apps for Blind People or How Technology Can Replace Special Assistance at the Airport?

Published on July 15th, 2022

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A person is using Evelity on the subway. They're on an escalator.

84% of people with disabilities use a smartphone. That’s why assistive technology is promising to enhance accessibility and inclusion. More and more apps are created to help people with disabilities get around with more spontaneity and more independence.

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Carole Martinez

Carole Martinez

Content Manager

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