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Carnegie Mellon, U at Buffalo Join on $4.7 Million Project To Advance Public Transportation for People With Disabilities
December 02, 2008

PITTSBURGH—Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the University at Buffalo (UB), State University of New York, are collaborating on a five-year, $4.7 million effort to advance public transportation for people with disabilities by bringing together computer science technology and the principles of universal design.
Their grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) is funding a new Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Accessible Public Transportation. The center will develop ways to empower consumers and transit service providers in the design and evaluation of accessible transportation equipment, information services and physical environments.
The center’s principal investigator and co-director is Aaron Steinfeld, a systems scientist at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute who works on human-robot interaction and intelligent transportation systems in the university’s Quality of Life Technology Engineering Research Center.
Steinfeld will be co-directing the new center with his father Edward Steinfeld, a professor of architecture at UB who heads the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDEA). The IDEA Center improves the design of environments and products by making them more usable, safe and appealing to people with a wide range of abilities. The center is a world leader in universal design, an important component of the new RERC’s work. The team also includes the United Spinal Association, an organization that focuses on improving the quality of life of Americans with spinal cord injuries and disorders, which will focus on developing transportation regulations and standards.
“This grant establishes a partnership between the IDEA Center at UB, known internationally as a center of excellence in universal design, with the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, known internationally as a center of excellence in robotics,” said Edward Steinfeld. “We expect this partnership to make a significant impact on the usability of public transportation for all riders. We will be completing research that is extremely timely and needed by the industry. We have business partners, including manufacturers and consumer advocacy organizations, that will help to implement research findings and disseminate information that directly improve transportation services, vehicles and facilities.”
The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) in Buffalo and the Port Authority of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh will assist the researchers as they develop new technologies and concepts. An important area of research will be the design of access and interiors for buses. California?based Gillig Corp., the nation’s largest manufacturer of heavy-duty mass transit buses, will incorporate, at their own expense, the modifications designed by the RERC into a new NFTA bus. The bus will be a prototype containing new interior concepts that are ready for commercialization.
“One of the key aspects of the project is to get input from transit users,” said Carnegie Mellon’s Aaron Steinfeld. “We will be evaluating ways to enable transit users and providers to be citizen scientists to collect and utilize data about the transit experience.”
The team will create a public Web site where riders can report on their experiences and collaborate with transit providers on ways to improve the transportation system. The team also will use advances in machine learning to develop software that can assist riders in reaching their destinations.
For more information on the new RERC on Accessible Public Transportation, see

About Carnegie Mellon: Carnegie Mellon is a private research university with a distinctive mix of programs in engineering, computer science, robotics, business, public policy, science and social science, fine arts and the humanities. More than 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students receive an education characterized by its focus on creating and implementing solutions for real problems, interdisciplinary collaboration, and innovation. A small student-to-faculty ratio provides an opportunity for close interaction between students and professors. While technology is pervasive on its 144-acre Pittsburgh campus, Carnegie Mellon is also distinctive among leading research universities for the world-renowned programs in its College of Fine Arts. A global university, Carnegie Mellon has campuses in Silicon Valley, Calif., and Qatar, and programs in Asia, Australia and Europe. For more, see

About the University at Buffalo’s IDEA Center: The IDEA Center at SUNY Buffalo is dedicated to improving the design of environments and products by making them more usable, safer and appealing to people with a wide range of abilities throughout their life spans. Originating in the practices of accessible or “barrier free” design and “normalization,” the concept of universal design seeks to make the everyday world more accessible and usable to a broad range of people, including people with disabilities and other often overlooked groups. The IDEA Center provides resources and technical expertise in architecture, product design, facilities management, and the social and behavioral sciences to further these agendas.
About the NIDRR: Created in 1978, the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) in Washington, D.C., is one of three components of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) in the U.S. Department of Education. The NIDRR operates in concert with the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) and the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). The mission of the NIDRR is to generate new knowledge and promote its effective use to improve the abilities of people with disabilities to perform activities of their choice in the community, and also to expand society's capacity to provide full opportunities and accommodations for its citizens with disabilities.

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