x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Taxi travel made easy for hearing impaired in UAE

Users of a new app to be released this week will be able to order taxis and talk to the drivers on their phones, using a range of pre-programmed voice commands.

Dubai Taxi Corporation’s new customer application for Windows phones, developed by Microsoft and the emirate’s Community Development Authority. It made its public debut at Gitex, which ends today. Sarah Dea / The National
Dubai Taxi Corporation’s new customer application for Windows phones, developed by Microsoft and the emirate’s Community Development Authority. It made its public debut at Gitex, which ends today. Sarah Dea / The National

DUBAI // Hearing-impaired taxi customers will be able to book cabs more easily and communicate with drivers with a new smartphone application.

The free app is expected to be released on Microsoft phones by the end of the week.

It follows 12 months of development by Dubai Taxi Corporation, Microsoft and the Community Development Authority (CDA).

Users will be able to order taxis, track their trip, calculate the fare and talk to the drivers on their phones, using a range of pre-programmed voice commands.

“We developed the app after surveys of our customers to find out what issues people with disabilities face when using our taxi service,” said Ahmed Al Hammadi, acting chief executive of Dubai Taxi Corporation.

“About 30 per cent of our customers have some form of disability and people with hearing impairments have the most difficulty communicating with drivers.”

The app has had its public debut at the Gitex Technology Week in Dubai World Trade Centre.

More surveys will be conducted in future to see if the app can be expanded to help people with other disabilities.

“Using a taxi can be a very difficult experience for the disabled,” Mr Al Hammadi said. “We hope this app will help to give more confidence to our disabled customers when booking and using our taxis.”

Ahmed Al Muhairi, chief executive of social programming and services at the CDA, said illustrated booklets to help drivers communicate with passengers with hearing problems were now in every Dubai Taxi Corporation cab.

A survey conducted by the CDA showed 89 per cent of respondents with hearing impairments used taxis to get to work, school or malls.

Half of them had difficulties in communicating with drivers, while 41 per cent relied on writing notes to get their message across.

“We started work on this project towards the end of 2011 and it has been about a year of development work to get to where we are now,” Mr Al Muhairi said.

“We appreciate that not everyone has a Microsoft phone so manuals have been added to cabs that provide the same information as the app.

“We will also look at possibly having this app available for iPhone and Android phones but we will have to evaluate how well this app has worked.

“The Roads and Transport Authority will then decide how we will take the app forward.”

The app has been designed to be as user-friendly as possible, said Michael Mansour, director of developer platforms and technologies at Microsoft Gulf.

“One of the great things about it is users can select one of numerous phases and the phone will speak the words out loud so that the driver can hear,” Mr Mansour said.

“The user can also type in any phrase and the phone will say it. This feature is in English and Arabic.”

Also announced at Gitex was a Dh1 million plan by the Information and Communication Fund and the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority to develop Arabic software to improve Arabic content on websites.

Students from Khalifa University hope to develop the reCaptcha project to digitise Arabic documents.

Captcha is used widely on English books and manuscripts as a way of improving web security by making sure online transactions are done by people and not computer programs.

Users are asked to read two words or numbers and type in what they think they are. One word is easily read but the other is distorted.

The Arabic system will ask the same type of questions to see how many recognise the words.

“People will type in what they think the words are and once we get a certain percentage saying it’s the same one we can then confirm it,” said Hassan Al Muhairi, assistant professor for computer engineering at Khalifa University in Sharjah.

“The project will start in early 2014 and we think it will be ready in about two and a half years after that.

“We will initially start with digitising modern Arabic books and then move on to historic documents.”

Gitex Technology Week ends on Thursday.

nhanif@thenational.ae