(Editor's note: The following story was written by the Tennessee Department of Developmental Disabilities, and appeared first on their website here.)
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — The Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD), the City of Chattanooga, CARTA, Orange Grove Center and AbleLink Smart Living Technologies, LLC, unveiled a joint initiative designed to support people with cognitive disabilities in Hamilton County to navigate public transportation using mobile-application based enabling technology.
“Too often, people with disabilities aren’t able to fully engage in their communities because of a lack of accessible or affordable transportation,” DIDD Commissioner Brad Turner said. “The incredible public-private partnership that has launched this initiative will make Chattanooga a national leader in accessibility and inclusion and set an example for other communities to follow.”
The Technology Supported Community Inclusion initiative uses AbleLink’s WayFinder SMART Travel system, a mobile application specifically designed for people with disabilities, to navigate the CARTA transit system. Kenny Pittman started using this technology in January to go to Barger Academy, his place of employment, without any staff support. Five others supported by the Orange Grove Center will soon start to utilize this application on CARTA buses. The goal is to expand the use of this technology to any person in Chattanooga with a cognitive disability to navigate public transportation independently.
“Partnerships like these allow truly innovative ideas and products to come to life,” Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said. “Not only does this app allow people with disabilities the tools they need to live independent lives, but it also makes our streets safer and our community stronger.”
“CARTA is very excited to be part of this project”, CARTA’s Executive Director Lisa Maragnano said. “It is through great partners like the DIDD, the City of Chattanooga, Orange Grove Center and AbleLink Smart Living Technologies, LLC, that we can offer choices to provide a better quality of life for our customers. It has been heart-warming to see how much the team that is working on this project cares and is working hard to ensure that everyone has access to safe, reliable public transportation.”
Those who are participating in the pilot were identified through Orange Grove Center, and all had a goal of living and working more independently. Through assessment and training, participants are able to use the mobile app with confidence prior to their first independent ride. This partnership would not be possible without DIDD’s vision, AbleLink’s technology, and CARTA’s dedication to assist all people with learning to ride and use buses.
"We are thrilled about the potential Enabling Technology has to build the independence of people with IDD and their families,” said Darcy Owens, Orange Grove’s Director of Employment Services. “We know that in all walks of life, whether you have a disability or not, transportation can be a very significant barrier to doing all the things you want to do. We see this technology as 'standing in the gap' for people with disabilities so that they don't forever remain totally dependent on another human close to them - parent, family member, or caregiver - for all their transportation needs."
“We built WayFinder to enable individuals to ride CARTA’s fixed route buses to get to work and access their community without having to depend on others for rides or needing to schedule paratransit.” Said AbleLink’s Dan Davies. “But for it to have the greatest impact, it takes committed partners like Alana at CARTA and Darcy at Orange Grove Center to make the most of the technology and help individuals achieve travel independence. Thanks to them, this project is off to a great start.”
Funding for the pilot program was provided through DIDD’s Enabling Technology program. Launched in May 2018, more than 100 people now supported by DIDD providers are using enabling technology to live and work more independently.
Find out more about DIDD’s Enabling Technology Initiative at the website here.