For persons with limited mobility, there are many access barriers to air travel, which are particularly virulent in the aircraft cabin. It is well known that especially in the area of communication between affected persons and the crew, there are in many respects large restrictions for both sides. Communication4All aims to clarify whether it is possible to create a communication application that fully meets the different requirements of all persons with reduced mobility, can be used by all and makes the travel process significantly easier for both the persons concerned and the crew.

Client: bmvit, TAKE OFF, Tender 2016

Duration: September 2017 to February 2019 (18 months)

Project partners: University of Applied Sciences Joanneum Graz GesmbH; Rodlauer Consulting GesmbH; TU Vienna, Institute for Transport Sciences; Austrian Airlines AG; IT-eXperience Informationstechnologie GesmbH

LOI partners: Flughafen Salzburg AG; ÖAR – umbrella organisation of Austrian associations for the disabled; Re-mobility; Club 81 – St.Pölten; knack:punkt – selbstbestimmt Leben Salzburg; Equality; Safe-Runway GmbH

Project description: From the Cabin4All exploratory project, in which the requirements of persons with reduced mobility in air travel were thoroughly examined and concrete measures to improve accessibility were defined, it is known that there is considerable need for improvement, particularly in the area of communication between persons with reduced mobility and the “air-travel system” along the entire mobility chain. At the same time, the project makes it clear that suitable communication options can significantly improve the quality of travel for persons with reduced mobility and at the same time noticeably reduce the workload on staff. Booking processes and services related to mobility at airports largely comply with accessibility requirements. However, there are major problems during the stay in the aircraft cabin or in general with the handling of persons with limited mobility. For example, people with reduced mobility who need a wheelchair must be transferred to special (onboard) wheelchairs both at the airport and on the plane. Such transfer operations often require the support of the personnel. However, depending on the clinical picture, misapplied support can quickly become painful.

During the flight, persons with limited mobility often require targeted support, for example, when a transfer from a seat to an onboard wheelchair is required to reach the toilet. Other examples are visually and hearing-impaired people, people with communication difficulties or people who are unable to speak. On the other hand, difficulty often arises for the flight personnel who despite intensive training do not have the necessary information in many situations to be able to offer effective support in the interests of those affected.

Cabin4All has shown that in many phases along the mobility chain the essential information can be exchanged bi-directionally via mobile telephone-based support measures. This both enables effective support for the persons concerned and also relieves the staff and in addition to general customer information, can also cover security-relevant aspects. For example, people who need help can upload specific information in advance via an app, which is then sent to the staff concerned. For example, information on the specific correct handling of a person can be stored during implementation. During the flight, a person can request help at any time in a targeted manner and be provided with information tailored to his or her personal needs. People with limited mobility are generally very familiar with smartphones and often use very specific apps suitable for their personal situation in order to improve communication and mobility.

However, the use of mobile telephone-based support, especially during a flight, contains a variety of open and so far not sufficiently solved questions and problems. From a technical point of view, it must be ensured that the system not only functions perfectly but that it can be easily integrated into onboard systems and at the same time that all technical and safety requirements are met. From the point of view of people with limited mobility, the great challenge is that an application is as simple as possible, can be operated by all persons with limited mobility and at the same time all the necessary information can be processed and transmitted bi-directionally.

The aim and content of the Communication4All project is to find out through sound research whether an app for mobile phones can be designed in such a way that all air travel requirements are fully met from a technical, operational, legal and safety-related point of view and can be used effectively by people with different mobility restrictions. With regard to usability, the focus is on the simplest possible operation whereby all conceivable application scenarios must be covered in the best possible way and to the fullest extent. In the project, all requirements for a barrier-free communication application are collected and processed in depth from the perspective of persons with limited mobility as well as from the perspective of aviation (by means of surveys, expert interviews, workshops and consortium internal know-how). Based on these findings, a communication application is designed and evaluated in several feedback loops with affected persons and airlines with regard to usability. For a realistic evaluation, a test application in the form of a mock-up is created and tested. Already during the conception phase, the basic feasibility and above all the usability is continuously checked in several feedback loops with suitable test persons and airlines. Finally, the mock-up is tested by mobility-impaired test persons and staff offline in their own test environment and adjusted if necessary after feedback. After a final usability test phase, the testers are asked extensively about their impressions and suggestions for improvement.

The result and added value of Communication4All is the feasibility check of a barrier-free communication application, which serves in particular persons with limited mobility for targeted communication of specific requirements and spontaneous requests for support measures along the entire travel chain and thus represents a considerable facilitation for the persons concerned and for the personnel. Since from today’s perspective the development effort is considered to be very high due to the many challenges that have not been sufficiently solved, the existing risk is reduced in a first step by a consciously manageable industrial research project in advance. Thereby defining through intensive research with a special focus on usability, which requirements a corresponding application must and can meet and whether this could be realistically implemented in the future.

Contact: DI Dr. Bernhard Rüger