New app Tappy Guide to virtually assist individuals with disabilities around Austin

John and his sister Ann stand together
John Petrous created the app Tappy Guide to help individuals with disabilities navigate around the city of Austin.

John Petrous created the app Tappy Guide to help individuals with disabilities navigate around the city of Austin.

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Individuals with disabilities now have access to a new app called Tappy Guide to help them navigate around the city of Austin.

Tappy Guide launched this summer to help virtually assist those with disabilities using real-time data and location information. But the app is not limited to people with disabilities; veterans, senior citizens and first-time visitors to Austin may also find it useful, founder and creator John Petrous said.

“A lot of the times when people are talking about mobility and transportation, it’s getting from Point A to Point B,” he said. “We’re trying to be that solution for individuals to locate Point A and guide them for where they want to go for Point B.”

The company has created a volunteer-based call center in which the app’s users dial when they need help navigating the city. Tappy Guide agents then receive two live data feeds: a live cell phone view to understand the real time environment and a live Google Map view so they can guide the individual to their destination. The app provides outdoor navigation to help the blind identify bus stops, building entrances and signal timing, along with helping those in wheelchairs find accessible parking structures and accessible ramps.

“For example, let’s say my sister is visiting downtown Austin for the first time and is traveling by Capital Metro, and she’s looking for the Bullock Texas State History Museum,” Petrous said. “She gets dropped off and says, ‘OK, where do I go from here?’ She can dial in [to Tappy Guide] and our agents will guide her to where she wants to go.”

Tappy Guide is also taking it one step further by providing indoor navigation as well. The app can help users navigate city and county buildings, find accessible building entrances and exits, and navigate participating businesses like grocery stores, malls, museums and airports.

“We’re trying to help universities, grocery stores, and sporting venues all become accessible for people with disabilities,” Petrous said.

The idea for the app came from Petrous’ previous experience working in the automotive industry in Detroit, along with a more personal element: He has a sister, brother and two cousins who were born blind and visually impaired. Tappy Guide ultimately came to fruition following an incident his sister experienced while using a ridesharing platform.

“About six years ago before my sister got her guide dog, she had an unfortunate situation where she was taking a ridesharing platform from the mall to her apartment complex, and she got dropped off at an entirely different location and was left stranded,” Petrous said. “When that happened, I knew situations like this happened a lot more often than not and that’s when I created Tappy Guide.”

After Petrous created Tappy Guide, he applied for and won the Ford City: One Challenge in early 2020, which was launched by the city of Austin and Ford Motor Company to look for new and innovative ways to help cities become smarter, he said.

“Austin realized one of their pain points was the art of accessibility,” Petrous said. “They want to start gearing toward and focusing more on people with disabilities, so that’s probably why we were the perfect fit for the challenge.”

Volunteers are an important part of Tappy Guide’s model, and Petrous said the company is looking for individuals who are passionate, patient and want to help other people. Volunteers are asked to sign up for a minimum of four hours per week, but there is no maximum time limit.

“Whatever they want to give and offer, we’re all for it,” Petrous said.

Tappy Guide has partnered with the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and Detroit Disability Network to create a three-hour disability training course for all volunteers to go through to become certified Tappy Guide agents.

“We’re giving people the ability to learn about disability sensitivity training, diversity and inclusion, and, most importantly, helping people with disabilities,” Petrous said.

Since the app works anywhere in the U.S. where there is cell service and a GPS signal, volunteers are not limited to just the Austin area. Those who are interested in becoming volunteers can register online at tappyguide.com.

Petrous said he expects the app’s pilot program to wrap up at the end of the year, after which he hopes to expand across Texas and the U.S. Until then, he hopes the business community in Austin also takes advantage of the app’s services.

“We want to let them know of our services and that we can help them become more accessible for their customers who have a disability,” he said.

Tappy Guide can be downloaded in the Apple Store and Google Play. For more information, visit tappyguide.com.