Project Director: Maureen Linden (GT).
Task leaders: Subtask 1: Maureen Linden; Subtask 2: Maureen Linden; Subtask 3: Brad Fain
The Inclusive Emergency Lifelines project develops wireless communication protocols and interfaces for current and emerging wireless technologies used in all stages of emergencies. The project focuses on official communications before and during emergencies through Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), as well as communication avenues between first responders and resource providers in the aftermath of an emergency through FirstNet. Finally, in a wireless world, emergency communications can only be received where individuals maintain power to their wireless devices. The project has three inter-related Tasks.
Signal Notification Optimization
In Task 1, the project investigates how easily people with sensory disabilities notice various alerting signals (audible, visual, tactile, and a combination of these) under everyday conditions in normal environments. The D1 team designed and developed devices similar in size and shape to a smartphone that provide different notification signals and measures and records the time it takes for people to respond to these signals. These devices are currently being given to people who are Deaf, hard of hearing, blind, or have low vision for them to carry over the course of approximately seven days. Data on their responses will be used to inform the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and wireless handset manufacturers regarding appropriate signaling capacity for wireless devices that will notify people of incoming emergency messaging regardless of their functional ability.
Data collection on this task is underway and will wrap up in the Spring of 2021. If you are interested in participating, please contact Salimah LaForce at firstname.lastname@example.org or 404-839-8741. She will provide more details about the study and schedule your participation.
Wireless Emergency Alerts – Video Platform (WEA-VP)
In Task 2, Subtask 1, the D1 team developed a software app that would display the contents of emergency messages in alternate formats. Specifically, the app takes incoming WEA messages and conveys them in a video through American Sign Language (ASL), captions, and spoken English. The WEA Video Platform (WEA-VP) also incorporated symbology used by the Integrated Public Alerts and Warning System (IPAWS) to improve understanding of the message content. The WEA-VP was demonstrated to individuals who are Deaf, and it was found that the IPAWS symbology was not very effective at increasing understanding of the message content, while viewing the video message was.
Battery Life Project
In response to Hurricane Maria’s impact on Puerto Rico in 2017, Google deployed Project Loon to provide cell phone service via cell sites held aloft with tethered balloons. Project Loon demonstrated that wireless communications infrastructure can be re-established quickly through alternative means, even during widespread power outages. This modified infrastructure relies on the wireless device user to maintain power to their wireless devices.
Project Loon prompted the D1 team to study ways to improve battery life for wireless devices for people with disabilities. Modern mobile electronics contain a variety of power and service options that may extend battery life. These controls are often hidden away in settings menus where they are not easily found, even if they were known to the device user. Some battery-saving settings include turning off wi-fi seeking; turning off device vibration; decreasing screen brightness; limiting background data; and reducing auto-lock time to turn off the screen faster. Some setting changes are more appropriate for individuals with specific disabilities than others. In addition, many apps that improve accessibility for people with disabilities consume power quickly.
D1 examined how to reduce power consumption on wireless devices for people with disabilities. The project surveyed power controls that currently exist within current mobile operating systems and evaluated the battery life of wireless devices, comparing typical operation with optimal battery operation while various accessibility apps are in use. This data will be further analyzed to develop recommendations for best practices for battery life extension of wireless devices. Further, we have developed a proof-of-concept, customizable user interface prototype that allows users with disabilities to implement these best practices, while still retaining access to their accessibility software. We will perform usability testing on this prototype in 2021.
FirstNet – First Responder Network
In the wake of an emergency, first responders need relevant, up-to-date information about the nature of the emergency and response efforts. The D1 team works with FirstNet (https://firstnet.gov ) to provide these resources in a uniform manner throughout the country. FirstNet recognizes that first-responders need information about nearby individuals in need of assistance and is expanding their system to accomplish this. FirstNet wants to include the needs of individuals with disabilities in this effort. For example, the system may provide an information stream notifying first responders that there is an individual with a mobility disability in the building who will need special egress assistance prior to their encountering the individual, or that an individual who relies on ASL is nearby so that an interpreter or remote interpreter service can be provided.
FirstNet is in the process of considering user-interface design and development. They are considering the needs of individuals with disabilities as part of the development process. The Wireless RERC continued work with them will ensure that the FirstNet information streaming system includes the needs of people with disabilities at its implementation. This will eliminate the need for ‘retrofitting’ the system once it has been established. Individuals with hearing, vision, mobility, and dexterity disabilities will benefit. They will have an accessible user interface that allows them to control information flow about their needs during an emergency as it relates to their disability.