Websites for mapping and researching accessible places
Note: The products mentioned in this article are not endorsed by MDA. When choosing any assistive technology equipment, be sure to do your research and consult with your MDA clinic team, as well as with an assistive technology professional (ATP).
Between fall road trips and upcoming holiday travel, wouldn’t it be great to know the accessibility features of every place you might go before leaving home?
Two free Web-based tools — AbleRoad and AXS Map — aspire to meet this need by allowing users to search for accessible restaurants and other businesses via their laptop or handheld device. And since both AbleRoad and AXS Map rely on obtaining voluntary contributions and updates from active participants (known as “crowdsourcing”), users are encouraged to review and report on a location’s accessible features firsthand.
Both tools are available as free stand-alone mobile applications, too, but neither app functioned well when downloaded from iTunes and tested on an iPhone 4. The developers of each seem to be aware of these technical issues, and AXS Map is working on a new version. But in the interim, both websites display well on a smartphone or other mobile device via Web browser.
AbleRoad shows reviews from both Yelp and AbleRoad users. Reviewers for the latter can rate a business in four different categories: mobility, hearing, sight and cognitive. Each category has a dozen features that can be given one to five stars. For example, the “mobility” category includes: parking/entrance, path of travel (internal), directional signage, path to entrance (external), counters/bars/registers, overall interior access, lobby/reception area, reach, customer service, restrooms, multifloor access and evacuation information. In total, reviewers can rate up to 48 access features for a given business and add anything else with comments.
AXS Map, which was created by filmmaker Jason DaSilva, has a sophisticated website with a video explaining how DaSilva, who lives with multiple sclerosis and uses a scooter, needed a simple way to locate accessible places where he could join friends for coffee, use the restroom or get a haircut. If everyone would “find, rate and share accessible places” and all that information was magically put on a map, it would be a great resource for people with reduced mobility, he thought. This idea became the AXS (pronounced “access”) Map mobile app and website. But you don’t have to have a disability to become an AXS reviewer. The site provides a video tutorial on how to evaluate a business regarding its entryway and bathroom access — two of the most important concerns for someone using a wheelchair. Determining how many stars to award is a bit murky: Does a bathroom only receive a five-star rating if it is large enough to accommodate an assistant? If the door swings in — instead of out — what is the recommended rating?
Clearly, evaluating access is complicated. AbleRoad takes a broad approach, trying to accommodate a variety of disabilities. AXS Map is more focused, targeting the needs of those with reduced mobility. Together, they represent a good start, but mapping the world’s access for people with disabilities is a huge task.
Today, for instance, AXS Map has reviews for more than 5,500 places, but its ambitious goal is to map 100,000 places by 2016. The website even provides instructions on how to organize a “mapathon,” in which a group of people canvas an area and rate all the businesses therein.
Both AXS Map and AbleRoad have room to improve: The content available through each offering is still limited, as is the geography they cover.
But there certainly is a need for the location-based accessibility information each strives to provide. So the next time you dine at a restaurant, attend a play or stop at the grocery, take a few minutes to review and rate the access — and help others learn from your experience.
|Jazzy Elite ES Portable|
Travel-ready gear to consider for your next trip
The re-designed and lightest Nook is an ultra-portable e-reader that’s easy on the eyes whether reading in bright sunlight or at bedtime. Ergonomically designed to fit in one hand, the portable device weighs a mere 6.5 ounces and is less than half an inch thick. The 6-inch display screen provides a paper-like reading experience and holds up to 2,000 books.
How much: $119
This all-terrain wheelchair with two drive levers and hydraulic disc brakes gives users the propulsion and control required to navigate steep inclines and a variety of difficult surfaces, from gravel driveways to wooded paths. Equipped with large, front-mounted mountain bike wheels, it’s also capable or riding up and over curbs with ease in urban landscapes, too. The driver can steer and operate the bike with one arm, leaving the other hand free for walking a dog or holding a phone.
How much: Prices vary by distributor/location
This Pride Mobility portable power chair easily disassembles and stores in the trunk of a taxi or rental car when traveling. Measuring 42 inches long by 22.75 inches wide, the compact chair fits in even tight spaces. The maximum speed is four miles per hour and range is eleven miles (both vary according to user’s weight, terrain, tire condition and additional variables).
How much: Contact an authorized dealer
Barbara Twardowski has Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease and uses a power wheelchair. Jim, her husband, is a registered nurse. The couple lives in Mandeville, La., and writes about accessible travel topics.