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Travel Assistant Device (TAD) to Aid Transit Riders with Special Needs

The goal of the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Act is to provide equal opportunity, full participation, and independence to persons with disabilities. The inability to travel, or the lack of knowledge in accessing the available transportation options, frequently translates into difficulty finding employment, seeking necessary medical services, and participating in educational or vocational training. Simple tasks such as knowing when to pull the cord to indicate the need to exit the bus can be challenging for people with cognitive disabilities. Travel trainers provide one-on-one instruction to develop the skills necessary for independent transit riding. The travel assistant device (TAD) developed for this project is a prototype software system that can be installed on off-the-shelf, GPS-enabled cell phones. The TAD software provides various informational prompts such as playing the recorded audio messages “Get ready” and “Pull the cord now!” and vibrating to alert the rider to pull the stop cord. These prompts are delivered to the rider in a just-in-time method. The real-time location of the rider can be viewed by the travel trainer or family member through a web page. TAD utilizes stop and route data provided by transit agencies in the de facto industry standard Google Transit Feed Specification format. TAD was designed for use by cognitively-disabled transit riders, but can be used by any transit user. Tools that reduce the time and cost of travel training by addressing one or more of the 23 skills necessary for a trainee to travel independently increase the mobility of the population, permit transit agencies to train individuals more efficiently, and reassure the families of these travelers. The field test results with cognitively-disabled young adults successfully demonstrated that TAD supports 3 of the 23 skills a trainee needs to possess to travel independently: watching for landmarks, recognizing a landmark near the desired bus stop, and signaling to exit at the proper time. TAD also provides confidence and security to individuals using the fixed-route transit system. Future research needs include additional testing through wider-scale deployment, integrating trip planning functionality, and combining TAD with automatic vehicle location (AVL) systems for increased reliability and approaching bus notifications. Finally, integrating the TAD into travel training curriculums makes it a tool that travel trainers can use to enhance transit rider independence and safety.

Download the final report. For more information, contact Sean Barbeau at


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