Crowd+AI Tools to Map, Analyze, and Visualize Sidewalk Accessibility for Inclusive Cities
Lead PI:
Jon Froehlich

Despite decades of civil rights legislation for Americans with disabilities, many city sidewalks remain inaccessible. A key problem is the lack of reliable data on where sidewalks exist and their quality. This lack of data fundamentally limits how sidewalk accessibility can be studied in cities, the ability for communities, advocacy groups, and local governments to understand, transparently discuss, and make informed planning decisions, and how sidewalks and accessibility are incorporated into interactive map, navigation, and Geographic Information Systems analysis tools. This proposal aims to (1) advance understanding of stakeholder needs and opportunities for socio-technical tools to assess and plan for accessible sidewalks; (2) develop and evaluate crowd+AI sidewalk data collection and assessment techniques to improve scalability, reliability, and better support diverse stakeholder needs; and (3) develop and evaluate a suite of open-source urban accessibility analysis and visualization tools. To address these aims, this project's cross-disciplinary team will work with urban and transportation planners, government leaders, disability advocates (e.g. EasterSeals - which also is participating as a Co-PI) and people with disabilities via participatory-design methods, crowdsourcing and stakeholder focus groups and interviews.

The proposed work makes foundational contributions to Human Computer Interaction, urban planning, and disability studies. First, this project will advance understanding of stakeholder needs and opportunities for socio-technical tools to support planning of accessible sidewalks, civic engagement, advocacy, and trip planning. Second, this project will develop new data collection and assessment techniques that will contribute new ML-based algorithms, crowd+AI workflows, and quality control mechanisms that improve scalability, reliability, and better support diverse stakeholder needs. The proposed crowd+AI approaches will enhance understanding of the challenges, concerns, and future opportunities for engaging people with disabilities in smart cities civic participation. Third, this project will develop and evaluate a suite of open-source sidewalk accessibility analysis and visualization tools, which are uniquely enabled by our data collection techniques, to help urban planners and transit agencies develop ADA transition plans for improving sidewalk accessibility, enable pedestrian and disability advocates to examine geo-spatial patterns of inaccessibility and review government progress, and help people with disabilities make safe, accessible mobility decisions. The proposed data collection and visualization tools have the potential to transform how sidewalk accessibility data is collected and analyzed, how cities plan for and improve sidewalk accessibility, and how infrastructure funding is dispersed in cities. The tools and data will be open sourced, enabling others to build off our work—including the over 80% of US cities that do not yet have plans to remove sidewalk barriers.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Jon Froehlich
I’m Jon, a Professor in Human-Computer Interaction at UW’s Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering where I work with an extraordinary set of students and collaborators on problems related to accessibility, urban informatics, environmental sustainability, and STE(A)M education. At UW, I direct the Makeability Lab and am the Associate Director of CREATE (Center for Research and Education on Accessible Technology and Experiences), Associate Director of Tech Transfer and Outreach of PacTrans, Faculty Chair of the MHCI+D program, and co-founder of Project Sidewalk, a web tool aimed at transforming how sidewalks are mapped, analyzed, and visualized using crowdsourcing+AI. I also serve as a Core Faculty Member in the Interdisciplinary PhD Program in Urban Design and Planning within the UW Graduate School.
Performance Period: 10/01/2021 - 09/30/2025
Institution: University of Washington
Award Number: 2125087