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The competition will have three phases. Photo: wikimedia.org
The competition will have three phases. Photo: wikimedia.org

SEPTA is asking the public for help developing a new transit plan for disabled riders

SEPTA for All: Augmented Reality Developer Challenge hopes to innovate how disabled riders experience public transportation.

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SEPTA and the city of Philadelphia are asking the public for help in proposing new ideas to make transportation more accessible for riders with disabilities through technology.

The new plan is called SEPTA for All: Augmented Reality Developer Challenge, and it’s asking for local innovators and tech savvy residents who want to be a part of a new development at SEPTA.

The challenge is supported by Philadelphia’s SmartCityPHL Program, Comcast, and US Ignite, with funding from Facebook Reality Labs.

The Institute on Disabilities at Temple University also provided support in framing the unique effort. 

Emily Yates, the SmartCityPHL director, believes more residents will come to rely on transportation in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, which makes the new challenge vital.

“The pandemic amplified how critical public transit is to Philadelphians,” Yates said in a press release. “Our communities rely on public transit to accomplish daily tasks like going to work, school, and shopping. We want to make sure that as we reopen, public transit is accessible to all residents and visitors. We believe augmented reality can really help realize this goal and support an equitable recovery.”

Augmented reality, also known as AR, is an interactive 3D experience that combines a view of the real world with computer-generated elements.

According to Business Insider, AR is also finding its way into schools to enhance traditional learning. For example, textbooks can be marked with codes that, when scanned by a smartphone, display additional content or 3D visualizations.

The competition will have three phases. The first is an open application process that will collect ideas and information about teams’ capabilities. The second involves a judging panel  selecting up to 12 semi-finalists to present their ideas virtually, and lastly, the six teams with the most creative ideas will move on to the final round and be given small grants to support their ideas.

The prospective team who wins will receive over $35,000 in cash prizes and will work with SEPTA and the city in piloting their idea.

The application process for willing participants is due on Monday, Aug. 2 at 5 p.m

Philadelphia is not the only city that is using AR as a critical device for citizens with disabilities. 

Chicago originally introduced a device in 2018 to help cities evaluate how accessible smart services are for people with disabilities. This plan makes it more beneficial for people with disabilities to be more informed about the transportation services they are using.

According to the CDC, approximately one-fourth of Pennsylvania adults have at least one type of functional disability.

By creating a new way to use public transportation, residents will be more comfortable using SEPTA’s services.

While the challenge is still in its early stages, the city is asking residents with disabilities to conduct an online survey, so they can figure out other ways to improve services.

This article is part of Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project among more than 20 news organizations focused on economic mobility in Philadelphia. Read all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.

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