Many of us don’t think twice about daily tasks like going grocery shopping or visiting the mall, but for individuals with cognitive disabilities, these outings often require the assistance of a caregiver. A new app, WayFinder, hopes to make daily tasks more approachable for all by unlocking independent travel for people with intellectual disabilities.
Designed by AbleLink Technologies engineer Daniel Davies, the app uses GPS to prompt step-by-step instructions for users. It also anticipates common areas of confusion and prompts helpful suggestions for problems users may run into like what a certain bus stop looks like and when to keep riding even if the bus stops. The app also has a partner feature that allows a caregiver to track a user’s progress on an independent journey for safety and peace of mind.
Davies founded AbleLink after seeing the challenges his brother faced with an intellectual disability. To perfect the app, he traveled with people with disabilities to see what worked and what needed to be changed.
Merakey is a human services organization that assists many people with cognitive disabilities. Shaleea Shields, the organization’s director of innovation, helps integrate technological solutions for Merakey and those it serves. WayFinder is her most recently-adopted project. She set up a test run of the app with 30 residents and taught them how to use the app to find their way to the mall, their job, or a friend’s house. So far, the app has been quite successful. One resident, Cierra, uses the app to visit a clothing store and try on new outfits before returning home without assistance.
In addition to giving individuals more physical independence, the app also provides a sense of autonomy. When individuals with intellectual disabilities can navigate independently, it builds a sense of confidence and offers them the opportunity to lead lives similar to those they see around them. Shields told FreeThink, “It is a really wonderful example of somebody realizing their independence and capabilities…and then being able to act on that.”