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Wheelcrowd

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Edit: Please do use wheelmap.org instead, they are awesome and have recently added Android and iPhone apps too. On top of that they use open data from openstreetmap.

My better half, Joseph Wilk, is a wheelchair user. Time and again, we have the same issue when going out. We hear about a nice restaurant, we travel there, and when we get there, the place isn’t wheelchair accessible. Same story when friends are organizing a party in the private room of a pub.

This kind of ‘ah, well sod that then’ experience is part and parcel for wheelchair users and their families.

The last few weeks, we’ve been organizing our move to Berlin, and so we’ve had some time to spare in between flat visits and organizing things. I’ve decided to adress this issue and start work on Wheelcrowd.

What does it do

Wheelcrowd is a mobile web application to search for accessible places around you. It is a layer on top of Foursquare data, uses Foursquare venues, categories and tips. It records the fact that the places are accessible or not.

home list venue

If this app is useful to you, I recommend that you bookmark it on the home page of your smartphone. This is relatively straightforward on iPhone and Android (for the latter: bookmark the app and use the bookmark widget, that you can find in the widgets).

What does wheelchair accessible mean?

Step-free or with only one step that is not too high, so that the person can pull themselves up (murky waters there, because that would be difficult for a motorized wheelchair users).

You can help by using Foursquare: tag it

The main challenge of such an application is always getting enough data to be useful to people. Two ways for now:

The obvious one: adding data directly in the application.

Joseph had a great idea, which is to let people tag their tips on Foursquare.

If you use Foursquare, add a tip containing the tags #accesspass or #ap (for accessible) and #accessfail or #af (or inaccessible). I would recommend to add this to a normal tip, as in “Slow service, but the coffee is worth it #accesspass”. Foursquare tends to classify adding the same tip over and over as spam, so #accesspass alone might get rejected. Note: that is an actual tip, not a check-in message. Wheelcrowd will automatically pick up on the tips.

foursquare tips

Which places are relevant?

Everywhere!

  • restaurants
  • hotels
  • public transport stops
  • shops, banks
  • office spaces
  • private residences (respecting the privacy of the residents)

If you can’t find a venue in the app, add it on foursquare (I’ll add a button in Wheelcrowd to link to the relevant place in Foursquare soon).

Technical notes

This is my first clojure app, and it’s hosted on Heroku. Code is here. If you’re a designer, and you would like to contribute, I can use your help. Joseph has been helping me on the UX, but the design is basically the jQuery Mobile default theme.

Road map

  • The venues need comments. For instance, you can have a place with a side entrance that is wheelchair accessible, or a place can be inaccessible because it has a single high step, but with 1 person helping it can be overcome. Nuances are useful.
  • We could add more types of ‘accessible’, say accessible to people with mobility challenges but not using a wheelchair (though that becomes complicated), or pram accessible.
  • Data could be complemented by scraping the websites for relevant information.
  • We’ll add login via oauth with Foursquare if that appears to be needed.
  • If there’s a big uptake I might consider making native apps, this is a prototype and web is good for that (and changing things quickly).

Ultimately

We want to raise awareness of accessibility issues, not only with the public but also with business owners. Sometimes a small effort can make a difference, like asking a carpenter to add a bit of ramp.

I would also consider it a victory if Foursquare and other apps added accessibility to their venue attributes, and allowed people to filter on wheelchair accessibility as a standard. Making this app obsolete would be a good thing!

Let everyone know, especially people who’ll find it useful!

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