HealthHack 2018 winner aims for better accessibility in Edmonton

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HealthHack 2018 winner aims for better accessibility in Edmonton
WATCH ABOVE: The team that won Edmonton's HealthHack contest designed a map that aims to make the city more accessible for wheelchair users. As Emily Mertz explains, the developers found some parts of the city hard to navigate. – Apr 30, 2018

The winner of this year’s HealthHack Smart Cities Challenge is aiming to make Edmonton more accessible to those who use wheelchairs.

Professor at the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Alberta, Martin Ferguson-Pell, and his team have developed Click N’ Push – an app that shows just how difficult it can be to get around the city in a wheelchair.

“It turned out to be incredibly difficult,” Ferguson-Pell said. “This is a very strong person, a member of our team. He went out and did one block on Whyte Avenue, and that’s all he could do.

“And there were times when he had to get out of the wheelchair — he’s an able-bodied person — and actually shift the wheelchair around obstacles in order to do it.”

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The app will use force sensors (called Redliner) to measure the effort required to navigate different parts of the city in a wheelchair. The data is then placed on a map, ranking the level of difficulty between zero and 10.

“I don’t think that the level of detail that we’re able to collect is available anywhere,” Ferguson-Pell said. “So it’s perfectly understandable that we’re unaware of how difficult it is other than the anecdotes we get back from wheelchair users. “What we can now do is collect information that represents them in a much more quantitative way and puts it on a map that then, for example, our city planners can look at.

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“At the end of the day, what we’d like to think is that the city can use this as a planning tool for the future — a strategic planning tool.”

The findings during the testing period of the app show that it’s harder than it may seem to get around local streets, and the goal is to make Edmonton a more accessible city.

“We don’t need to just work with the city; we can also work with other groups like conference centres and hotels, proprietors of larger facilities – West Edmonton Mall would be an example.

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“It’s not that easy to get from the parking lot through the doors into West Edmonton Mall in a wheelchair so maybe they would be interested in us doing an accessibility map there that would help them identify areas they could make more accessible.”

The team will ask different groups to test Click N’ Push as is and also give feedback on potential features that could be added in the future.

“We are interested in the seasonal aspect of this because a lot of people who are wheelchair users really find themselves locked in during the winter,” Ferguson-Pell said.

“I think if we do nothing else but demonstrate how much more exertion is needed when you’re pushing around in the winter, then I think that will actually change people’s attitudes towards how we make sidewalks accessible.”

READ MORE: Weird and wonderful ways Open Data is unearthing Edmonton information 

The HealthHack 2018 Challenge asked for submissions that would improve health — mental, physical, social and economic.

The city received more than 38 proposals in just two weeks and announced the winner on April 16.

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Ideally, Ferguson-Pell would like to be able to offer Click N’ Push as a free app to anyone who wants it. He thinks the team could have it ready in that format in just a few months.

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