Wayfinding Assist: Neatebox Makes Traveling More Accessible for People With Disabilities


Neatebox's Welcome app connects travelers who need navigational assistance with airport staff. Image via Neatebox

Travelers with disabilities will have a smoother journey to and through Edinburgh Airport thanks to these accessibility apps.

Only a small percentage of people with disabilities are wheelchair users, and yet the wheelchair symbol has become the universal designation for accessibility, says Gavin Neate, founder of Neatebox. This discrepancy explains why travelers who request assistance at airports are often met with an unneeded wheelchair.

After spending nearly two decades as a guide dog mobility instructor, Neate created an app for people who cannot easily reach the button at a crosswalk. They don’t have to manually press the crosswalk button, because their smartphone or smartwatch will automatically do it for them when at a pedestrian crossing equipped with a Neatebox sensor.

The Button app can work on elevators equipped with the sensor, too: “You can open the elevator door but also choose the floor you’re going to,” Neate says. Regarding activation, he says there are several ways it could be triggered, such as a predetermined interaction or voice activation through the phone, depending on the user’s needs.

The app led Neate to imagine a “smart door” that can identify when someone with a disability enters a venue. And so, the Welcome app was born, creating three touchpoints between users and their destination: one to tell the venue when users are on their way, the next to notify staff when users hit a virtual boundary and the last when they pass a beacon on arrival.

When explaining the need for Welcome, Neate cites Henry Ford’s supposed quote: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” In the customer service world, Neate says the equivalent of faster horses is conducting more staff training. However, he argues it’s not possible for employees to know how to deal with every disability. Take ataxia, a degenerative disease resulting in the loss of muscle control and balance, which affects just 150,000 of the 327 million people in the US. Even with more staff training, Neate says companies are stuck in a loop that goes something like “incident, apology, staff training, period of time.” With Welcome, that no longer has to be the case.

“The app can give staff information about a customer’s specific disability, tips on how to interact with the individual and a link to a charity providing additional information.” –¬†Gavin Neate, Neatebox

“At each point, the app can give staff information about a customer’s specific disability, tips on how to interact with the individual and a link to a charity providing additional information in case [a staff member] would like further training,” Neate explains. Already in use at Edinburgh Airport, Neatebox has also been approached by air traffic control company NATS with a view to expanding the Welcome service across the whole passenger journey.

The app is as much about empowering the person providing the customer service as it is for the person receiving it, Neate says, citing the slogan of UK disability charity Scope: “End the awkward.” The end result? A positive human interaction. “Welcome is helping society get closer together using technology that stays in your pocket.”

“Wayfinding Assist” was originally published in the 9.2 April/May issue of APEX Experience magazine.