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Research investigates how mobile apps can help people with disabilities

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Curtin University researchers have been awarded the 2016 Dr Louisa Alessandri Research Grant to investigate how smartphone applications could be used by people with disabilities to mitigate the effects of their impairments and potentially improve social inclusion.

Dr Mike Kent, Curtin’s Head of Department of Internet Studies and lead on the study, said smartphones could enable people with disabilities to more effectively traverse the urban environment.

“Throughout Australia people with limited mobility use mobile apps to plan journeys by taking into account elevation and gradients of ramps, numbers of steps, internal routing in stations, proximity to accessible parking, ground surfaces etc,” Dr Kent said.

“Internationally, people with vision impairments sync their phones to crosswalks which then transmit instructions audibly, based on where the user wants to go.

“Mobile devices and accessible applications have become an integral part of how Australians with disabilities navigate through urban spaces in their day-to-day lives.”

The $40,000 grant will support a pilot study to investigate the ways people with disabilities use their smartphones to navigate and experience urban space to discover the effectiveness of this technology in decreasing the social isolation of people with disabilities.

Researchers will collect data from participants with both mobility and vision impairments across three different locations around Perth using a newly developed mobile phone app.

The app will allow them to capture participants’ phone use at regular intervals in order to establish when and where different phone functions are being used.

Dr Kent said the data collected from the app would be used alongside quantitative data gathered during interviews with the participants, as well as data visualisations created at Curtin’s Hub for Immersive Visualisation and eResearch (HIVE).

“We will use the HIVE to visualise the ways people with disabilities navigate the urban environment of the city of Perth, Curtin University and Bunbury,” Dr Kent said.

“The research will deliver results that people with disabilities can use in the short term, but will also identify key areas for future research and contribute to the generation of new research on people with disabilities’ smartphone usage.

“We hope this research will give us an insight into how we can offer enhanced support and services to those with a disability and increase their independence and improve access to information,” Dr Kent said.

The grant was presented by the Minister for Planning and Disability Services, The Hon. Donna Faragher, at an event on the Bentley campus on 25 May 2016.

Further in kind support has been provided by Media Access Australia.

It is anticipated the results of the study will be released in October 2016.

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