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Technology solutions provider conducts pilot programs, partners with Ypsilanti-based non-profit organization to advocate for transportation independence for Michiganders with cognitive disabilities
For over a century, Michigan has been the home for innovation in mobility, from Ford’s assembly line to the latest in EV manufacturing. As a state that is always on the move, it can be difficult for those who are dependent on others for transportation to find safe, accessible options for independence.
AbleLink Smart Living Technologies, a technology solutions provider, is committed to making a difference for Michiganders with cognitive disabilities or those experiencing cognitive decline through its award-winning WayFinder technology, which is designed to give people with cognitive disabilities more independent access to their local community.
In January 2020, AbleLink was among three winners in the City:One Michigan Central Station Challenge, sharing $250,000 in funding to test the implementation of its proposal in a real-world setting. The City:One Challenge was a collaboration between Ford Motor Company, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s mobility initiative (formerly PlanetM), and the city of Detroit, designed to help improve mobility in communities through new pilots and solutions.
AbleLink partnered with Ypsilanti-based non-profit organization PEAC (Programs to Educate All Cyclists) on its City:One Challenge project, working together to do travel training for those with cognitive disabilities and empowering them to ride public transit independently with the help of its program/app and training sessions. During the project, 12 of the 15 participants with intellectual and developmental disabilities successfully learned to ride a city bus independently.
Following the project, AbleLink learned about the Michigan Mobility Funding Platform (MMFP) and the Office of Future Mobility and Electrification (OFME) through a referral. In December 2021, AbleLink was awarded $100,000 in MMFP Grant funds to deploy its WayFinder travel support system for residents of Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, and Washtenaw Counties.
“For a person with cognitive disabilities, being able to ride the bus by yourself offers the opportunity to get a job, visit friends and family, and the freedom to go where you want – when you want,” said Daniel K. Davies, Founder and President of AbleLink Smart Living Technologies, LLC. “We appreciate the interest of Michigan’s Office of Future Mobility and Electrification in exploring this innovative technology to help overcome barriers to independent travel.”
In collaboration with PEAC and the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART), AbleLink implemented its WayFinder Ecosystem for travelers in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, and Washtenaw counties. With the Ecosystem in place, users who typically have challenges learning fixed transit routes were able to safely access and learn routes and build confidence in their independent transportation skills.
“John and Kaleesha and the team at PEAC have been instrumental in the implementation of the WayFinder pilot study in the Washtenaw County area,” said Steven Stock, Vice President of AbleLink. “Their vision, enthusiasm, and follow through have been all we could have asked of a partner. We are grateful for this work on behalf of people with cognitive disabilities who want to learn to travel independently, and we look forward to continuing our partnership in future projects.”
AbleLink and PEAC have experienced great success in their partnership, exceeding targeted project enrollment and expanding their project to include bike transit in addition to bus transit. At press time, 21 of the 26 individuals with cognitive disabilities enrolled in the project have successfully learned to ride one or more fixed bus routes - a success rate of over 80% - with several other participants expected to achieve independent traveler status soon.
"PEAC’s experience with WayFinder has been revolutionary,” said John Waterman, Founder and Executive Director of PEAC. “The accommodations needed for individuals with cognitive impairments to access information and to be comforted during a ride is what makes this so important. The ability to individualize WayFinder is a game changer. Students are able to access the information at a level they understand. They are comforted during the ride with personal voices and landmarks they know. Parents and staff are placed at ease with GPS tracking and alerts if they deviate from the route. This program is a bridge to independence to allow parents and guardians to allow the final challenging step of solo travel."
AbleLink is also receiving national recognition for its accessibility technology. In July 2022, AbleLink won the $700,000 second prize in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Inclusive Design Challenge for its WayFinder Ride prototype. The Challenge focused on innovative design solutions to enable people with physical, sensory, and cognitive disabilities to use automated driverless vehicles to access jobs, health care, and other critical destinations.
The WayFinder technology is expected to be deployed around the U.S. over the next decade, continuing to provide independence, accessibility, and autonomy for Michiganders with cognitive disabilities.
Learn more about the Michigan Mobility Funding Platform at www.michiganbusiness.org/mobility-funding/.