View from India: Wheelchair-accessible maps for the differently abled
Researchers with the Global Disability Innovation Hub, co-led by UCL (University College London) in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (IIT-Delhi), are developing wheelchair-accessible maps of Delhi, India.
Described as Street Rehab, the collaborative project has been conceptualized with innovative sensing platforms. This is how it works. UCL has arrived at low-cost sensors that can identify features of the sidewalk and gauge how wheelchair or tricycle users propel themselves.
“Infrastructure in India can often make pushing a wheelchair or tricycle difficult. We’re trying to identify how people are currently getting around in Delhi, to find new ways of facilitating rehabilitation and identifying ways to improve infrastructure,” said Dr Catherine Holloway (UCL Interaction Centre), the Academic Director of the Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDI Hub), as per an official press release.
In order to take the pulse of the market, local NGOs have been roped in. This has given an insight into the community of wheelchair and tricycle users from across the socio-economic spectrum. The data generated from the participants’ sensors has helped create a map of accessibility in parts of Delhi. The data has given a lead to this project. Now, efforts are on to develop a larger dataset of the wheelchair accessibility of Delhi. The next step is to identify what needs to be improved and to deliver a service to wheelchair users to aid in their rehabilitation.
Development of assistive technologies for empowerment of people with disabilities is extremely important. “To achieve social and economic inclusion through research and innovation, UCL and IIT-Delhi will have joint activities in design, development and dissemination of assistive technology which sits between economic burden and economic prosperity,” said Professor P.V. Madhusudhan Rao (IIT-Delhi).
The Street Rehab project is associated with a £10 million GDI Hub project funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). Called AT2030, it aims to bring life-changing assistive technology, such as wheelchairs and eyeglasses to all.
The GDI Hub’s AT2030 project is expanding into Nairobi, Kenya this year. The team is also in discussion with colleagues in Delhi to explore opportunities for an innovation hub in India.
AT2030 seeks to reach at least three million people, develop new technologies and service delivery models, spark dozens of start-ups and opportunities for investment and innovation to help people living with disabilities. This can give rise to a breed of startups to facilitate people with disabilities (PwD).
Moving on, the trend is that assistive technologies (AT) are being rolled out for the benefit of the differently abled community. AT in the form of Internet of Things (IoT) connected insoles and ultrasonic sensors are integrated into apps and smart devices, many of which rely on advanced electronic technologies for providing assistance. Sometimes AT is inbuilt into the software and hardware of the system. Broadly speaking, the differently abled are assisted through screen readers, hearing aids, voice operated interfaces, wheelchairs and Braille keyboards. At times, the device is aligned with the clothing. Detailed features like mapping, object identification and face recognition are incorporated for an enriching experience.
Besides that, accessibility apps have given rise to digital accessibility maps for the differently abled. Accessibility mapping with multi sensory formats needs to replace traditional hand drawn maps.
The English-language and vernacular data generated from AT should serve a larger purpose. The data can provide an understanding of what is required to make public and private places movement friendly for the physically disabled. Providing the differently abled access to equal movement should be an ongoing process. Disability-supportive technologies need to become a mainstream option.
Let’s hope all this is made available commercially to scale down costs. It would be nice if the ongoing Smart Cities initiative incorporates walkways and services for the differently abled in the initial stage itself.
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