Blind Community Lends Valuable Insights to AccessbleOlli

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Continuing our work of creating the world’s most accessible, self-driving vehicle, IBM, Local Motors and the CTA Foundation recently hosted an #AccessibleOlli workshop, which tapped the unique combination of the blind and visually-impaired community and transportation organizations in the greater Boston area.

We invited participants at varying stages of vision loss – from mild impairment to completely blind. Though most attendees were frequent riders of public transportation, a few indicated that they seldom used it, however were excited by the prospects of what Olli could offer to enhance their lives. The workshop also included members of Massachusetts’ transit agencies (Mass Bay Transit Authority (MBTA), MassDOT and the Mass Rehab Commission’s Adaptive Auto Program).A blind woman boards a bus while other people wait in a line behind her.

As the workshop got underway, it became apparent that the familiarity this group has with public transportation had equipped them with some thoughtful and practical ideas. We were surprised to receive some input that went beyond blindness or visual-impairment, such as methods of securing a wheelchair while in-transit.

As one of the IBM project leads, and also visually-impaired, I was intrigued by the depth and innovation of the discussion. There were some ideas raised that we hadn’t yet heard, though we also noticed some recurring themes from the previous workshops:

New Concepts

  • Voice activated services are critical – from calling or ordering Olli, to all interactions and information received while riding the vehicle.
  • Personalized narration, including information on the surroundings, delivered over smart device/headphones with the ability to repeat information, if needed.

Common Themes

  • Vehicle should recognize the rider, and enable personalized, individual experiences.
  • Multi-modal delivery of information – voice, text, touch – based on individual preference.
  • Security – Emergency directions and navigation instructions should be delivered in multiple ways (voice, text, touch) so it feels safe.
  • Flexibility – needs to minimize wasted time and respond to changes.
  • Predictable, reliable – must promote confidence.

The effort to make #AccessibleOlli the world’s most accessible, self-driving vehicle is an exciting process indeed, and the momentum gained with each new workshop only serves to reinforce all the exciting possibilities.

We encourage everyone to get involved and share their thoughts on possible ways of instrumenting a vehicle to be more accessible to people of all abilities. Please use #AccessibleOlli on Twitter or post your thoughts in the comments section below.

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