Travel assist project with TfGM (update)

In this blog, Mark, Community Services Development Manager from our Digital Team talks through our exciting partnership with Transport for Greater Manchester on their Travel Assist project.

Working in partnership with Sarah Kumeta, the Senior Innovation Officer at TfGM, we were asked to support a new project funded by Department of Transport as part of Accessibility Technology Research and Innovation Grant programme (A-TRIG).
The aim of the project is to develop and explore the role technology can play in increasing accessibility on Transport Networks.
This is the second part of a two-part blog about this project. If you want to catch up on part one, please click here.

Staff training

It was important for the project team and control centre staff at TfGM to have a greater understanding of the challenges that people living with sight loss may encounter, so we created some bespoke visual impairment awareness training.
We arranged for this to take place for their staff, at one of their busiest hubs, Manchester Piccadilly Train Station.
We started with a quick session on misconceptions regarding sight loss, like blind people only see dark, all blind people read braille and use a guide dog, and people with no sight couldn’t possibly use a smartphone.
We moved onto the challenges people face with different eye conditions and used specialist simulation glasses so the staff could get a better understanding on how sight loss can affect people.
The training then covered how to guide someone that is visually impaired and what it is like, whilst blindfolded, to be guided. This really helped the TfGM staff to understand what they needed to consider if/when supporting someone remotely.
If you want further details on our visual impairment awareness training, please click this link.

The Project Team and a Henshaws volunteer outside Manchester Piccadilly Train Station, wearing Sight Loss simulation glasses and Hi-Viz jackets Getting ready for their Visual Impairment Awareness Training.

Bugs, testing and feedback

Members of our ‘Tech Talk’ group who worked on this project were able to feed back on intermittent problems whilst using the pilot solution.
We did some mock scenarios, where the Henshaws team called the Travel Assist team. The audio was intermittent sometimes and on occasion, the console buttons on the call centre console didn’t work as expected, but, generally, the visual and audible communication during the testing worked well.
On the useability front, we felt the ‘call for assistance’ button needed to be more prominent, so the team adjusted the software instantly: a great ‘We said – they did’ story.

Findings

  • The solution works well when in a quieter environment, and could help the user when the station was less busy.
  • When busy (such as at Piccadilly train station), the sound quality was poor, as the person was holding the phone away from them to give the call centre operative the opportunity to capture the view of the station.
  • The camera feed was good but the amount of help that could be provided was dependent on what the end user was showing through their camera.
  • Sometimes the call centre team felt uncomfortable with providing support as they were worried about safety implications when sound quality, and sometimes the camera feed, was poor.
  • When travelling through Piccadilly, if the user went underground i.e., towards the Metrolink stop then the connectivity in the station was poor and it meant that the feedback to the call centre was lost, which caused concerns around user safety if the connection was lost when providing guidance.

Final thoughts

At this moment in time, the TfGM team do not feel they are able to go live with the solution before these issues can be addressed. They are looking into alternative ways to further understand how this solution could help people that need visual assistance, from exploring how the Wi-Fi in the station can be enhanced to ensure connectivity, to delving into the futuristic world of wearable digital glasses!
TfGM believe this solution has potential to help all people when travelling through a station environment, especially in times of disruption when things can change unexpectedly, and some extra reassurance would make all the difference.

Call centre console on a PC screen

Watch the video below for a run through of what the TfGM control room team views when someone makes a call:

Henshaws’ Digital Enablement Team are here to find the solution that works for you, no matter what your sight level, age, or technical ability is. This can include supporting you to find solutions to help you navigate and travel independently.

For information on travel accessibility around Greater Manchester, visit the TfGM website.
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