Mobility Matters pivots during Covid-19 crisis
Author: Jillian Daley
Posted: March 18, 2020
Within days of hearing that Portland State University was canceling in-person classes and events because of the coronavirus pandemic, Amy Parker, Mobility Matters founder, and her team chose not to cancel their event.

Instead, they transformed the all-in-person event into a virtual haven via Zoom video conferencing.

“This story is one of persistence and community,” said Parker, assistant professor at the Portland State College of Education.

Mobility Matters, held March 18, is an annual University summit that shares advances in technology and new approaches for transportation systems that benefit people with disabilities. This year, the event transformed into an all-day online forum featuring national experts.

Presenters hailed from Portland State, Amtrak, Portland International Airport, TriMet, Cornell Tech, Portland Bureau of Transportation, Verizon, DeafBlind Citizens in Action and many others. Conversation flowed through the audio and in a series of comments that popped up in a chat window.

During a reflection sessions at the end, presenter Amita Srinivasan, president of DeafBlind Citizens in Action, said during this pandemic, she has been troubled by the delays on shipping, especially on shipments of food for people with disabilities.

“That is unacceptable,” Srinivasan said. “We need to do better and have a more sustainable system in place for the community.”

In an earlier session, presenters from mobile networking behemoth Verizon, nonprofit Wayfindr and for-profit Waymap unveiled a new technology that offers an affordable, digital wayfinding app designed to give audio wayfinding instructions for public spaces.

 “This sounds like a great system, especially for traveling in unfamiliar areas,” Mobility Matters participant Summer Beasley said in a chat post. “It can be easy to get turned around, especially in areas like underground metro stations, even for people who have some functional vision."

At another remote session, the Portland International Airport offered updates on accessibility options, through TSA and the airport.

"The airport is really a microcosm of the community we serve," said Walt Marchbanks, customer relations manager at Portland International Airport.

In a session more focused on ground transportation, Love Jonson from the Portland Bureau of Transportation and Jonathan Hopkins from scooter-maker Lime held a session on scooter advantages (mobility) and issues (parking in sidewalks).

Jonson said people are less likely to ride the scooters with seats on the sidewalks "because they feel more like a bike." Hopkins said he's been working with local authorities to ensure that Lime scooters are used safely and users do not limit access to sidewalks for pedestrians or otherwise break the rules, with help from Disability Rights Oregon.

As the session came to a close, all of the participants shared their enthusiasm for all that they had learned and experienced.

“Great job going to this format: AWESOME!!” participant Rajiv K. Panikkar said in a chat window.

Beasley was also delighted with the format.

“I was thrilled with the presentations as a whole and applaud the whole Mobility Matters team on pulling off a wonderful and informative conference, with a lot of moving pieces, AND switching it all to be provided online with only a short amount of notice,” she said.

Photo: Mobility Matters organizers prepare for Wednesday's big summit. From left: Becky Morton, a COE grad student , and Mobility Matters founder Amy Parker, a PSU assistant professor. Photo by Julie Wright

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