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Graduate Students Create App to Combat Accessibility Struggles at CTA Stations

Zack Miller | The Phoenix

In an effort to curb issues surrounding accessibility at CTA stations, two Loyola graduate students released an app that sends push notifications when elevators are down at stations.

The Android app Elevate Chicago, created by Sam Siner and Tyler Arndt — second-year software engineering and computer science graduate students, respectively — follows a simple concept: alert users whether elevators at CTA stations are in working order. The project started as an independent study last summer for their master’s program, but the two decided they wanted to broaden their scope and help the community. 

“The concept is simply to fix that communication gap between when those elevators are down and when they’re back up so people who depend on them don’t get stranded at that station or travel to that station and end up not being able to go anywhere,” Arndt, 30, said.

Although Elevate Chicago is currently only available on Android devices, Siner said they’d like to expand the product to Apple’s iOS devices but couldn’t give a timeframe for its release. 

The app, which was released Sept. 25, uses statistics from the CTA and is updated once an hour in order to minimize how much of a user’s data the app uses, Siner said. 

The concept is simply to fix that communication gap between when those elevators are down and when they’re back up so people who depend on them don’t get stranded.

Tyler Arndt, Loyola Graduate Student

Once the idea was born, the two reached out to CTA accessibility representatives and talked with people in the Rogers Park community through Facebook groups. Siner said some developers create products based on what they think would work best, something he and Arndt wanted to avoid. He said the pair chose to engage the community “early and often” for best results, and received thoughtful, helpful feedback. 

“[We] found out pretty quickly that this was a real need and not just for people with disabilities, but parents with strollers and the elderly and people with luggage — anyone who needs an elevator on a regular basis,” Siner said. 

Jenny Brager, a two-year resident of Edgewater, detailed the story of her former elderly neighbor who was often faced with issues at CTA elevators. Using a cane and a wheelchair, she said there were times he’d have to call a friend or wait for help to get onto the platforms.

“I think [Elevate Chicago is] a great idea, especially because there are a lot of buildings specifically for older people [in the area],” Brager, 30, said. “It’s just a nice, super convenient accessibility notifications.”

Of the CTA’s 145 train stations, 103 are accessible, and according to the All Stations Accessibility Program, the CTA aims to make the remaining 30 percent of its stations accessible in the next two decades. Until then, Arndt said he and Siner saw a need for a program to provide users with the necessary information to make their commutes easier. 

Having studied architecture for his undergraduate degree at Iowa State University, Arndt said his design and visual skills came into play with planning the app’s interface. He said he wanted to keep things simple, user-friendly and “exclude the noise.”

Set against a dark blue background, the app’s layout is straightforward. Users can favorite stations across all eight lines, after which notifications will be sent if elevators at those stations are down. The app also gives users an overview of all 145 stations — whether they’re accessible and if the elevators are working. 

“We’re just trying to solve a problem that exists,” Siner said. “It fulfills a real need for real people in Chicago.” 

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