Sharing Accessibility Information among a Mobile Wireless Community

RESNA 28th Annual Conference - Atlanta, Georgia

John Peifer, Jeff Wilson, Brian Jones, Benjamin Lippincott


Mobile wireless technologies enable communities of interest to continuously share valuable information about accessibility during all daily activities. Researchers from the Wireless RERC have developed tools that allow consumers to contribute to a mobile information system using cell phones and other mobile computing platforms. This consumer-enhanced database provides dynamic and relevant information about local accessibility issues. For the RESNA 2005 conference, the Wireless RERC will demonstrate the mobile information system and encourage RESNA attendees to participate. This paper describes the goals, methods, efforts to date, and plans for the RESNA demonstration.

KEYWORDS: Mobile, Wireless, Accessibility, Information, Community-of-interest


There are numerous examples of how the Internet connects communities of interest to exchange ideas, give advice, make recommendations, and send warnings. For example,’s customers regularly read consumer reviews before making purchases and submit their own reviews after trying products. Accessibility information is also being shared among Internet communities of people with disabilities, and the support from others with similar disabilities is often invaluable. Emerging mobile wireless technologies are now making it possible to send and receive information from cell phones and portable devices that people carry throughout the day. The technology is making it possible for everyone to become a mobile reporter of news and events that are relevant, important, or entertaining to their community of interest. In previous efforts, the Wireless RERC developed a location-aware Mobile Accessibility Guide (1,2) that combines location tracking with wireless networking capabilities to send and receive context-aware accessibility information. The MAG was created with relatively expensive components ($800+) consisting of a Hewlett Packard iPAQ personal digital assistant (PDA) equipped with a Global Positioning System (GPS) card, a digital camera, and a Sprint PCS wireless networking interface card. Experimental efforts are proceeding with this full-featured prototype configuration, but new inexpensive cell phones are coming equipped with cameras, text messaging, wireless data networking, and simple location tracking capabilities that could allow consumers to contribute accessibility annotations that are similar to those in the original MAG. A focus of recent efforts has been to expand mobile data entry and retrieval options to support standard off-the-shelf devices with no additional device or software installation requirements. Under this concept, multiple mobile wireless devices of varying capabilities can interact with the system. The underlying hypothesis for this research is that people with disabilities will share their experiences with a community of interest because timely accessibility information will increase independence and improve quality of life.


The Wireless RERC has developed tools that will allow RESNA 2005 attendees to participate as mobile reporters and consumers of accessibility information around Atlanta. A web site describes accessibility information about venues of interest in Atlanta, and conference attendees will be encouraged to submit updates from their mobile phones, PDAs and laptops. People with mobile Internet access will be able to review this information while they are on the go, and everyone will be able to browse the site from any Internet connected terminal (in the computer lab, on their laptop, or in the hotel’s business center). Mobile reporting and news delivery is enabled by a collection of tools and resources that are connected by a combination of wireless and wired networks. The major components of the information system include: 1) a database of accessibility information, 2) mobile wireless reporting devices, 3) information presentation devices, and 4) server tools for processing and organizing information for distribution.

Tools for Submitting Mobile Reports on Accessibility

Without installing any special software on their mobile devices (phones, PDA’s or laptops), consumers submit mobile reports (broken elevator, blocked ramp, no curb cut) as standard email messages which are structured such that the information can be processed and organized into a central database. Text descriptions of accessibility are sent in the body of the email, and image and audio (voice) annotations are sent as attachments. Submissions to the database can describe the general location of the report by entering an integer code in the email subject line (such as 1 for airport, 2 for hotel, and 3 for stadium). Submissions can also describe the type of report by entering a second integer code (such as 7 for restroom, 8 for parking, and 9 for entrance). For simplicity, the codes describing venue location and alert types can be entered in the subject line of the email sent; however, this same information can be submitted in the body of the email. Mobile reporters using a tablet PC or PDA with keyboard can easily enter detailed text descriptions, and they can also submit GPS coordinates and higher quality digital images downloaded from external digital cameras.

Central Server for Processing and Organizing Data

An important component of the system is the central server software which receives email reports, extracts the information, organizes the database, and makes the information available in different web presentation formats. Software built on ANPOP email processing software (3) automatically decomposes the email into subject, message body, and attachments. A “moderator” software component then determines if and where this information should be inserted into a Structured Query Language (SQL) database. The moderator component includes both automatic and manual tools. In the automatic mode, consumer entries from pre-approved mobile reporters are sent directly to the database. For other annotations from unknown reporters or of questionable quality (erroneous and/or malicious submissions), a human moderator uses software tools to review the contributions and determine whether to make these annotations available (with or without editing). Authorized moderators may log onto a password-protected and secure web site where each submitted mobile report can be reviewed.

Content and Information Filtering

The content for the accessibility information system is organized in a database combining static, slowly changing, and dynamic data. This includes general information that might be found in public information systems (maps, transportation schedules, and traffic reports), accessibility reviews that have been carefully conducted by professionals (4), and consumer entries from the community of users. The current database includes content from Access Atlanta, City Search, Shepherd’s Guide to Atlanta for People with Disabilities, MARTA transportation guide, Atlanta convention guide, and Underground Atlanta Guide. The information system also contains consumer profiles and filtering algorithms to efficiently organize and retrieve accessibility information for individual needs and interests. For example, a profile might describe a retired person with a hearing impairment who is going back to school; and another profile might describe a young woman who uses a wheelchair and is an avid baseball fan. For the RESNA 2005 demonstration, the Wireless RERC is selecting content and presentation formats to demonstrate the value of a customized accessibility news report for a fictitious RESNA attendee. Simple data processing algorithms will organize mobile reports by type and prioritize the presentation order based upon the predefined profile for the fictitious attendee. The database moderator will also review submissions and assist in the filtering process.

Presentation of Accessibility Information

The accessibility information is presented to the consumer in a web-based format designed for display on a variety of devices such as desktop computers, tabletPCs, PDAs, or cell phones. Two different presentation formats are currently supported: one for large-screen devices (desktop, laptop, tabletPC) and one for small-screen devices (specifically HP iPAQs with PocketIE 2003). While designing web pages for a large-screen device is fairly straightforward, presenting the same information on a small-screen device is a significant challenge. In addition, PDA interactions have to be kept simple and take into account that many users might use their fingers or the back of a pen, rather than a stylus to navigate the pages (5). With this in mind, page navigation elements were kept simple. The homepage provides a very basic list of links to the site sections. Each site section has an index page of content, such as Atlanta accessibility related news article titles, which then link to the related full story (6). The small-screen design also uses smaller image sizes throughout and reduced text summaries on all but the full story pages. The small-screen web pages were authored using XHTML (Extensible HTML) and a subset of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). These are the latest accepted standards (according to the Open Mobile Alliance) for mobile devices, and they have been incorporated into most mobile browsers.


Mobile wireless technologies offer continuous access to valuable accessibility information about the places, services, and resources that are relevant to people with disabilities. These technologies can link communities with similar interests, and distribute important advice, warnings, and recommendations with an immediacy that has never before been possible. Mobile wireless technologies allow consumers to become mobile reporters who submit updates to a large database of accessibility information layered on top of other Internet information resources. As the database grows, it becomes more valuable, and it also becomes more important for sophisticated filtering algorithms to automatically organize, process, and distribute customized news to individuals based upon their needs, abilities, and interests.


  1. “Mobile Accessibility Guide”, Vince Gibson, John Peifer, and Meghna Krishnan. Proceedings from RESNA 2004 Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida.
  2. “Accessibility Information to Promote Independence for Wheelchair Users”, Meghna Krishnan, J. Peifer, and V. Gibson. Poster presentation at RESNA 2004 Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida.Wired on wheels.
  3. ANPOP email processing API purchased from AdminSystem (
  4. Guide to Atlanta for People with Disabilities, Shepherd Center. January 2005.
  5. Tutorials: Designing interfaces for handheld computers, Phillip B. Shoemaker May 1999, ACM CHI '99 extended abstracts on Human factors in computing systems
  6. Designing Web Sites for PDAs, Carter Stowell,, 12 May 1999.


The research reported here is being conducted under the auspices of the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Mobile Wireless Technologies for Persons with Disabilities (Wireless RERC), funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) of the U.S. Department of Education under grant number H133E010804. The opinions contained in this publication are those of the grantee and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Education.

Author Contact Information:

John W Peifer, Research Director
Biomedical Interactive Technology Center
Georgia Institute of Technology
250 14 th Street, Atlanta, GA, 30318
894-7028 VOICE
404-894-7025 FAX