We’ve all heard that the power of technology can facilitate more inclusion for disabled people. Disability Horizons Co-Founder Martyn Sibley recently tested out this theory. How? Trying out the new and exciting SmartPhone app – assist-Mi, as part of an Open Inclusion research project.
Here’s how he got on…
It’s Friday evening. I’m a little tired. I’ve travelled a long way today. Starting in my car, I headed to my local train station in Cambridgeshire. After an hour on the first train, I arrived at Kings cross. I was finally ready to start my pilot test of the new assist-Mi app.
Actually the test had started the evening before. I needed to download the app onto my Smartphone. assist-Mi is available on iPhones and Android devices. Within a few seconds I was registering my name and email address. Then completing my user profile.
The quick tick box exercise was comprehensive in terms of stating my accessibility needs. But also easy to navigate and select the relevant information. Essentially I have a mobility impairment, and require wheelchair access.
I was tasked with going from Kings Cross to York. Then back again (plus back to Cambridgeshire – hence my fatigue). I’d already booked my tickets online, and secured the wheelchair space (both of which will be available through the app later on). So I used the ‘train services’ feature on the assist-Mi app to request ramp assistance the following day. Which I did twice – one for each journey.
Buzz Buzz. Within an hour or so, I was messaged through the app. They were confirming that my assistance had been booked at both stations. Also it told me that upon arriving to Kings Cross, to head for the information point.
So we’re back now to today. I arrived at the information point half hour before my train departed. Unfortunately the person that I spoke to there didn’t know about the app. Which was a bit disconcerting, but I understand that there are always teething problems with such new rollouts that aren’t necessarily a problem once things go properly live. However, they did have me down on the list. Meaning the assistance booking had gone through.
The guy I met at platform 1 was from Virgin Trains. For this pilot I needed a Grand Central train. After some discussion we realised I needed the following train to York. No biggy. Finally 3 other people met me at the Grand Central train. Weirdly they also hadn’t heard of the app.
Once safely on the train, helped by the 3 fantastic support staff, I sent a message via the app. The King’s Cross representative assured me all was as it should be. Whilst York messaged they were all set for my arrival in 2 hours time. Indeed after I did some work, ate lunch with my PA, and listened to a podcast – a smiley lady greeted me with a ramp in York. She was fully aware of assist-Mi.
Providing station staff are aware of the app, the actual process works fine. It just created tension as to whether everything was going through as it should.
Unfortunately, I only had 30 minutes in York! I wanted to get home before bedtime 🙂 So I saw the historic wall opposite the station, and the cathedral in the distance. Luckily I’d been to York before and knew what a beautiful city it is.
I knew they were ready for my return journey at York station, as the same lady provided the ramp. They did confirm this on the app too. Good to know for those who don’t turn around in so little time. Plus Kings Cross informed me that Kori would be waiting with the ramp upon returning there. When Damon popped the ramp down, I was concerned for Kori’s wellbeing. Evidently the plans changed. Either way, I’m always happy like a kid at Christmas to see the ramp. It’s a symbol that all is well.
Believe me I’ve had some nightmare journeys in the past!
Some of you may wonder why I’d go to all this effort just for a trial. Well, ideas and visions are powerful. We need tech start-ups to imagine a better future. We need disruptive technology. We need innovations like assist-Mi to move the needle. We also need to connect them with reality, and bridge the future with the now.
My trip showed me many great things. Like how a device I use all the time can connect me with transport providers. That this can benefit me and those providing the vital service. It also showed that no journey ever goes perfectly whether you are disabled or not. However, it highlighted some points for assist-Mi, and the individual train stations to improve upon.
After the trial I spoke to Keeley Walsh, project manager at assist-Mi and it’s exciting to hear that they are working hard to fine-tune the solution based on the in-depth feedback they got during the trials.
Most of all I hope it shows anybody reading this that technology can facilitate inclusion. Instead of focusing on any imperfections right now, imagine this. Imagine us helping apps like assist-Mi to improve, and consequently enhancing our own access solutions. Imagine assist-Mi connecting us to many other service providers in transport, education, work, leisure and beyond. Imagine other innovations following in this direction, further facilitating inclusion.
When we take a leap of faith, and trust our imagination – the opportunities are truly limitless.
By Martyn Sibley