“I’m not disabled by my Wheelchair but by stairs” says Rahul Krauthausen, the founder of Sozialhelden, a social enterprise that invented the “Wheelmap”. Wheelmap is a mobile App that crowdsources information on the accessibility of places all over the world. Whenever you visit a place, you can take out your app and mark it green if it’s fully accessible, yellow if it’s partly accessible (for example if there are some rooms in a restaurant that can only be accessed by stairs), or red if it’s inaccessible. Whenever you want to go somewhere new, you can check if the place is accessible and understand what exactly to expect when you visit. Every day more than 300 new entries are added to the Wheelmap worldwide, mostly with a green marker.
Dublin on Wheelmap, still lots of opportunity for mapping with 7,900 places un-mapped.
Accessibility is not an issue many of us are confronted with in our everyday lives but once you are, the way you see your environment changes instantly. For example if you were arranging to meet a friend for a coffee who happens to use a wheelchair, could you picture the few cafÃ©s you go to regularly and tell whether they’re fully accessible? As long as we don’t personally experience this, we take it for granted that we can easily get wherever we want to go.
It used to be just like that for Jack, a pharmacy student in Dublin, but since an accident three years ago he has been dependent on a wheelchair. He has tackled the challenge head-on and he doesn’t mind asking for help but he knows that for many people it’s a huge barrier not to know what’s ahead of them when going out.
For so many people with mobility challenges the thought of going out and exploring new places is daunting and they can easily be swayed from even attempting to try by a lack of information about accessibility. Something as simple as having the assurance that getting into a venue and using the bathroom (simple things I never had to think about before using a wheelchair) can change someone’s experience and inclination to try out somewhere new in a big way. It’s important to have resources like the Wheelmap where the information is crowdsourced. It breaks down barriers for people who may not otherwise have gone out and gives them reassurance that their needs will be met.
Jack believes that the Wheelmap is a relevant tool for everyone to gain new perspectives on their environment. That’s why he joined in to organise the first Wheelmap #MapMyDay event in Dublin – an afternoon where people come together to map as many places as possible on the App in a couple of hours. He organised the event together with his friend Rosa from CoderDojo and colleagues from Rosa’s co-working office Dogpatch Labs.
I like the idea that there are people that recognise the world is a place that we all interact with in different ways. Everyone uses different tools to enhance and shape their ability to best deal with the challenges and opportunities their environment presents. For me, that’s what Wheelmap and other apps like it represent, a tool I can use to go out and experience new environments and interact with the world.
And the more people know about it and start looking at the world through the Wheelmap, the better!
After a short introduction about how to to use the App about 20 people went out into Dublin’s streets, putting themselves into the shoes of a wheelchair user trying to figure out how to access pubs, supermarkets, restaurants or hotels. Inspecting entrances, taking pictures of staircases and getting lost in back rooms while looking for elevators supposed to lead to toilets!
The Wheelmap App is not very well known in Ireland. In Dublin there are about 400 places mapped to date, most of them in green but this is an encouraging insight into the accessibility of the city. According to Jack, a lot has happened over the last few years:
I have seen a big improvement even over the last three years, everything from accessible entrances, lifts, bathrooms that are correctly designed and proper curbing on footpaths. It’s the little things that make a big difference and they all add up to make it easier to navigate what once were huge challenges. I think accessibility will continue to improve as time goes on, as it should!
Thanks to initiatives like the Wheelmap, #MapMyDay but also the likes of Access Earth or Legless in Dublin with lots of helpful reviews of events and venues more and more people can access the information they need to move more freely.
Still, there are more than 7,000 places left to map just in Dublin and lots more opportunity all over Ireland. This is a challenge that needs the dedication of a movement that involves everyone. A #MapMyDay Event can be organised anywhere and by anyone who would like to go through the experiment to see their environement in a new light together with friends or colleagues. Ultimately, every single event is a contribution to creating more accessible environments and more importantly the fundamental mindshift required to build a more accessible world or as Jack puts it:
The biggest reason for me to do the #MapMyDay is that it gets people thinking!
You can just register your interest to organise a Wheelmap #MapMyDay event here and ChangeX will support you to get started.