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CTA rider develops app for wheelchair users

RedEye

Mohammad Ouyoun, 21, was trying to get to Union Station to take a Metra train home to Northbrook last year when he came across a problem.

Ouyoun said he was at the Merchandise Mart Brown Line stop in River North and asked the CTA customer service agent which stop was closest to Union Station. 

Taking the agent's advice, Ouyoun got off train at the Quincy stop but couldn't go farther than the platform because the stop does not have an elevator or a ramp for riders with physical disabilities. Ouyoun said he has been in a wheelchair his entire life, diagnosed at birth with cerebral palsy.

To make it easier for wheelchair users to get around the CTA, Ouyoun has created a free app that gives riders transit directions that only include CTA stations with working elevators and/or wheelchair ramps and CTA buses, which all have ramps.

"I feel like there is a big need for this kind of application," said Ouyoun, a software developer with Smart Chicago Collaborative, a group that uses city data to create apps to address resident needs. "It would not necessarily be limited to wheelchair users but moms with strollers and people with luggage."

The Roll with Me app, at rollwithmeapp.com, allows users to enter their current location, destination and the time they would like to leave. The app shows wheelchair-friendly routes and a list of CTA alerts such as rail station elevators that are out of service for repairs.

The app is not the first of its kind. The Wheely app provides wheelchair-friendly directions for New York City transit.

In Chicago, of the CTA's 145 rail stations, 99 stations are wheelchair-friendly, CTA spokeswoman Ibis Antongiorgi said. All 1,800 CTA buses have ramps that lower to allow wheelchair users to board. The agency could not estimate how many wheelchair users ride the CTA.

Antongiorgi said the CTA makes it easy to determine which rail stations are accessible. CTA maps distinguish accessible stations with a picture of a wheelchair. The agency also lists accessible stations on its website.

On its Web site, the CTA hosts a trip planner that allows users to denote they want wheelchair-friendly directions.

If an elevator is out of service, the CTA puts alerts on its website and online Train Tracker, Antongiorgi said. Riders who enter stations can see a list of out-of-service elevators on a white board in the station entrance.

Riders can also call the CTA Elevator Status Hotline available through the main CTA number, 1-888-YOUR-CTA, Antongiorgi said.

"The CTA is committed to making sure transit is accessible to everyone, including customers with a wide range of physical and other disabilities," Antongiorgi told RedEye.

The CTA plans to install elevators at the Wilson Red Line stop in Uptown and the Addison Blue Line stop in Avondale. The agency says its goal is for all CTA stations to have wheelchair access.

The station Ouyoun had difficulty with last year, the Quincy stop in the Loop, is slated to get elevator service in a $15.7 million project next year.

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