COTA with confidence: New program hopes to help cognitively disabled community take the bus in central Ohio

As Charlie McDonald’s COTA bus pulled up to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, his phone buzzed and text flashed across the screen reminding him that his stop was approaching and it was time to exit.

McDonald, 27, is part of a pilot program using a smartphone app called WayFinder to help people with cognitive disabilities use the COTA bus system to travel the city more freely. The program is run by Smart Columbus and Ohio State University.

The app allows caregivers to find a bus route and add in instructions and notifications specific to the needs of the rider. They can add photos of drop-off locations, audio and text reminders that are triggered when the destination is close and walking routes to and from the bus stops.