Wheelchair (in)accessible: App maps obstacles for disabled

Jason DaSilva has recruited volunteers to help assess businesses' handicap accessibility.

Story highlights

  • Steps, narrow doorways and cracked sidewalks can make travel difficult in cities
  • Frustrated by his inability to move around, Jason DaSilva developed AXS Map
  • The crowdsourcing platform allows people to rate businesses for accessibility
A filmmaker with multiple sclerosis hopes an app he developed will help fellow wheelchair users make cities like New York more accessible.
For most people, meeting friends for dinner at a new restaurant, jumping into a taxi or going out for a shopping trip shouldn't require too much advanced planning. Just show up and walk in.
But as Jason DaSilva discovered, these simple actions that he took for granted for the first 25 years of his life harbored hidden obstacles that made them nearly impossible to perform in a wheelchair.
Steps, narrow doorways, cracked sidewalks and impossibly long ramps were only some of the barriers he encountered as he tried to navigate New York City, where he lives, from a chair. Most of the subway system is out of reach, since not all stations have elevators. And not all taxis are equipped to load wheelchairs either.
Frustrated by his inability to move around as freely as he liked, DaSilva developed AXS Map — a crowdsourcing platform that allows people around the world to rate businesses for accessibility and, most important, to share that information.
Because while the Americans With Disabilities Act, enacted by Congress in 1990, mandated that buildings and other facilities become more accessible to those with disabilities, DaSilva found huge variability in how well the law was executed.
Beyond that, many buildings constructed before 1990 are exempt from the regulations. AXS Map isn't intended to rate the extent to which a structure is ADA-compliant; it simply serves as a tool for people with mobility issues to find out which businesses in their community are actually accessible, and to what degree.
Launched in 2012 as a website and mobile Web app, AXS Map is powered by Google Maps. Both of the current iterations allow the user to rate several features of local businesses for accessibility, which are tallied into an overall star rating.
Much like Yelp and other crowdsourcing platforms, the more data that users contribute, the more useful the app will become. Also like Yelp, with more ratings, the most positive or negative reviews are canceled out so users end up with a solid core of realistic reviews.
"I think it's critically important that people like Jason are getting involved and creating change in their own right. It is the only way that this effort will be successful," says Mark Perriello, president and CEO of the American Association of People With Disabilities.
"You see a lot of innovation by people with disabilities ... but the number of people who are participating and changing the future, changing their own future by changing society, is far too few."
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