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Image of the wing of an airplane and the words accessible travel

Accessible Travel Ideas

01/28/2020

Everyone needs to get away and escape real life at some point, and no time is better than mid-winter to jet-set away! Travelling as a person with a disability can be difficult- the need to bring extra equipment and airlines who just can’t seem to figure out how to transport wheelchairs without breaking or losing them. The knowledge that your destination will not only be accessible, but fully inclusive makes it all worth it. We put together a list of accessible vacation spots that are fun for the whole family! All of these locations were designed specifically to meet the needs of people with various disabilities and fully include people of all abilities in the activities and fun!

Accessible Travel In North America
Accessible Travel In The United States

The Magical Bridge is an organization that builds accessible parks designed to match the needs of people of all abilities, where everyone has the chance to play and explore! The playgrounds are completely FREE to visit and are located in multiple cities in California, USA. They are rapidly expanding, so keep an eye open for a Magic Bridge opening near you!

In San Antonio TX, there is a fully inclusive theme park and water park called Morgan’s Wonderland and Morgan’s Inspiration Island. You can take a spin on the giant Ferris Wheel in your wheelchair, or splash around in a fully accessible pirate ship. The organization also offers discounts for nearby hotels with accessible rooms, so you can plan your trip stress-free! 

Accessible Travel in Canad

There are many options for summer camps in Canada that are fully accessible for people with disabilities! I have a special place in my heart for Easter Seals Camps, which have both individual sessions for campers aged 8-26, and family camps where the whole family can enjoy camp fun! Check out Easter Seals Camp Woodeden in London- you can climb the largest fully accessible high ropes course in North America, take a dip in the pool, make pottery, bake treats and have a camp out in the fully accessible yurts! 

There are Easter Seals Camps all over Canada- check out your local Easter Seals to learn more!

Alberta- Camp Horizon

BC- Camp Squamish

     – Camp Winfield

     – Camp Shawnigan

Nova Scotia- Camp Tidnish

Ontario – Camp Woodeden

             – Camp Merrywood

Newfoundland and Labrador – Camp Bumbleberry

Saskatchewan- Camp Easter Seal

At the Cold Water Ranch the Abilitas foundation offers a fully accessible vacation home for people with disabilities and their families to go to get a break from real life and have time to bond as a family! Set in the mountains of BC, 30 minutes west of Merritt you can experience the tranquility of a working ranch in a fully accessible lodge. You can stay for up to 4 days, with just a modest fee for booking and cleaning. 

Accessible Travel In Oceania
Accessible Travel in Australia

Sargood on Collaroy is a purpose built resort for people with a spinal cord injury. Located on the sunny shores of Sydney Australia, Sargood on Collaroy is a great place to escape everyday life, and try out all sorts of new things- surfing, sailing, snorkeling, golf, ceramics, fishing, gardening, kite flying- you name it! All of the activities are run by therapists who specialise in assisting people with spinal cord injury, and adaptive equipment is included! Sargood on Collaroy is a fully accessible location, and they supply most of the equipment you will need, so you can travel light. There are also attendants on site, who can assist you or you are welcome to bring your own carer! Some funding is available for a stay, although pricing is not available on their site.

Accessible Travel in Europe
Accessible Travel In Sweden

Sweden has made it a goal to be the most accessible place to travel. Check out their accessible travel website which includes a database of accessible locations. Some planning is required, however travelling Sweden with accessibility needs is made much more possible by the huge steps taken by the government and other organizations to improve accessibility and to clearly mark accessible locations. The database shows detailed pictures and descriptions of accessibility features and barriers, and could help plan a great vacation!

The Musholm Centre is a new fully accessible sports resort designed for people with disabilities, located 2 hours from Stockholm. The centre provides accessible activities for the whole family including power wheelchair hockey, rock climbing and many other sports and activities. They also provide equipment needed during your trip if you arrange ahead of time so you can pack light! You could tag a stay at the Musholm center onto a tour of Scandinavia, one of the most accessible areas of the world.

Accessible Travel In Asia
Accessible Travel in Japan

Japan has made big investments in increasing accessibility. Their Accessible Tourism Center provides resources and recommendations for planning a trip. They make recommendations for areas you can visit, including the accessibility requirements for businesses. 

Want to be safer while you travel? The Braze Mobility blind spot sensor systems provide many benefits to travellers who use wheelchairs! Sensors can alert you to pickpockets looking to get into the backpack on the back of your chair, and to navigate unfamiliar spaces! Check out the new Braze Sentina here!

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Image with the words Autonomous Wheelchairs

What Are Autonomous Wheelchairs?

01/15/2020

As self-driving cars begin to enter the market, it becomes increasingly likely that self-driving wheelchairs will be developed. The implications of this are incredible, and will certainly change the way people roll! This blog series will look at where we are now on the journey towards fully autonomous wheelchairs, as well as some of the pros and cons of self-driving chairs. While I am not an expert on robotics (I’ll leave that to our CEO Pooja), I hope that these insights will help you understand what autonomous technology is and can do!

Self-Driving Wheelchairs: What Are They?

Self-driving vehicles are trickling their way into the market slowly, with Google’s Waymo leading the way towards a 2020 projected launch. The adapted cruise control to maintain distance between 2 vehicles, the lane monitoring software to alert drivers when they are crossing over the line in a road are all already implemented in cars. These technologies make cars safer and easier to drive and are generally considered to be good advances in safety technology. However, trouble arises when you take the human completely out of the equation. Complete reliance on a computer’s ability to make life-or-death decisions properly raises concerns, and the ethics of programming a computer to make those decisions poses issues. Despite this, self-driving cars have been on the streets for a fair while, logging over 10 million test hours (England, 2018), and feeding the AI with data about traffic navigation. This process will take years and millions of dollars to reach the point where you could own a car without a steering wheel or brake pedal.

How it works:

The basic model is that the computer is teaching itself how to drive. By using artificial intelligence (a computer that can teach itself), and inputting millions of hours of driving data into the framework, the computer essentially learns to identify situations. When a car encounters, say a person on the side of the road, it will compare this to the millions of other humans that have been encountered in the past and compute the risk of collision. This will include identifying the probability that the person will step out in front of the car, the speed at which the person is moving, the degree of turning which must occur to avoid the person, the amount of brake that must be applied to avoid hitting them, etc. The car will also need to calculate whether steering around the person will put the driver or other cars at risk, and if so will require a pre-programmed decision-making process to decide whether to swerve, brake or neither. Of course, it is all infinitely more complicated than this, and there are many other factors being considered.   

But, we aren’t talking about automobiles, we are talking about wheelchairs, which will likely be more difficult to program to drive safely. Cars operate in fairly controlled environments. On roads, cars and pedestrians observe clear traffic rules (even if they aren’t always followed well- I’m looking at you Toronto drivers!), and although there is some level of unpredictability this is limited. Wheelchairs, on the other hand should be able to travel anywhere someone could walk, meaning the situations that the wheelchair will encounter are pretty much as diverse, unpredictable and lawless as walking through Union Station during rush hour. Additionally, it is likely that self-driving cars will be able to communicate with each other, creating network effects, and helping cars to avoid colliding with each other. People who drive wheelchairs often face challenges with people not getting out of their way, or even walking right into their chair. Communicating with humans is a difficult challenge for autonomous wheelchairs, as warnings would need to be inclusive of people with low vision and/or hearing. 

Another challenge will be inputting the desired destination for the wheelchair. While cars can be programmed to travel to a specific address, the input for a wheelchair destination is much more complex due to the large diversity of places a wheelchair can travel.

Take, for example someone at a stadium needs to use the washroom. One possibility is that the person will click a button on their chair that says “bathroom”. The chair will then need to have either a blueprint map of the building, or cameras that can monitor the environment in search of the accessible washroom sign. Using this information, the chair has located the closest washroom! Now, the computer will decide the optimal path towards that washroom. This will require the computer to know the location of all stairways to avoid, and all ramps and elevators (assuming chairs are unable to climb staircases at this point). The path is set, and the chair begins on its way! Dodging people and alerting them to move out of the way, the chair approaches the bathroom. When it approaches, the chair deploys a signal to the door to open, or a mechanical hand to push to automatic door opener. The chair registers that the door is open and is able to move into the washroom!

Once in the bathroom, the chair must be able to choose between the available stalls to locate the accessible one, and the person using the wheelchair may want to back into a specific bathroom stall at a certain angle to make transferring easier. While the wheelchair driver or a human attendant may be able to use their past experience about the easiest transfer method, and therefore best location to park in, a computer may have difficulty accounting for all variables. Assuming this chair has learned from its driver, it successfully docks, and the process must be repeated to return the person to their place in the stadium. The complexity of this decision-making process is high, and potential for mistakes is high as well! A wheelchair colliding with a person is dangerous.

 A bathroom is an easy target- what if the driver is hoping to travel to a more specific environment (ie the coffee table to the right of the doorway separating the kitchen and living room). Considering input method must be adaptable for people who have a difficult time speaking or typing the challenge increases. All of these challenges will be faced by developers looking to create self- driving technology for wheelchairs.  

While Google Maps and other automobile tracking software has been perfecting available maps of streets and traffic, there are no such maps making blueprints of buildings- this means that autonomous vehicle technology must either find ways of interpreting the environment at a human level of understanding (ie- reading signs, sensing walls and obstacles etc), or every building that self-driving wheelchairs are in must be carefully mapped and categorized.

All autonomous technology is a challenge. It will be years before self-driving cars begin to emerge on the market. As you can see, self-driving wheelchairs pose even greater of a challenge for software developers and thus will likely take even longer to emerge onto the market.

The benefit that self-driving wheelchairs will inevitably bring to the population who uses them is incredible. Working towards an autonomous future for wheelchair controls is certainly a good thing- but the challenges are real as well. Our next post will look at the ethical implications of self driving chairs- the good and the bad! 

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