People with mobility impairments, especially those using wheelchairs, depend on accessibility information for successful travel planning. Mainstream travel information sources, however, do not sufficiently provide this. With the goal of working towards a standard for presenting access-specific information, this dissertation explores the question “How do wheelchair users utilize accessibility information during trip planning, and which information sources are most valuable to them?"
To answer this and develop a theoretical framework, two methodologies are applied: an online survey and a human subjects experiment. For the online survey, intermediary agencies were contacted nation-wide and convenience sampling obtained through networking. During the experiment, twenty wheelchair users from the local community evaluated route accessibility based on supplementary access information provided prior to travel. Access information about potential barriers was provided using map symbols, digital photographs, or phone assistance from an access consultant. In addition to evaluating routes, participants traveled the routes, completed introductory and exit interviews, and answered two questionnaires. Variables measured during the experiment included subjects’ confidence ratings, number of information items accessed, time spend on evaluating routes, and perceived helpfulness of information items.
Both the survey and experiment indicate that wheelchair users experience a lack of access-specific information sources; however, they also suggest that wheelchair users’ unfamiliarity with quantitative access measures might impede successful information acquisition from high-quality sources. The survey shows there is an unmet demand for contacts with other wheelchair users prior to travel and that maps with accessible routes are perceived as most helpful. Women in general, especially those leaving their homes infrequently, appear to require more access-specific information during route planning.
The experiment shows that accessibility information provided prior to traveling unfamiliar routes improves wheelchair users’ confidence in traveling safely, and strongly suggests that lack of high-quality information sources negatively affects information expectations and acquisition skills. Pre-task interviews during the experiment indicate that participants primarily acquire accessibility information over the phone. When presented with printed materials, however, they prefer pictorial information sources to phone assistance.
Distinctive findings for participants with cerebral palsy, expanding features of the theoretical framework, and recommendations for the publication of accessibility information are discussed.