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April 11, 2013 / carlispina

Wheelmap – A Tool For Finding Accessible Locations

Wheelmap LogoFor individuals with mobility impairments, finding shops, restaurants, libraries and other buildings that are accessible can be a major problem. While businesses list important information such as their address and hours on their websites, they are unlikely to have a note about their physical accessibility. Too frequently, it can be impossible to predict whether a location is accessible leading to unnecessary complications and wasted time for those with mobility impairments. Wheelmap aims to solve this problem by crowdsourcing it.

At its base, Wheelmap is just an online, open map. What sets it apart from the average map, however, is the ability for any user to add information about the accessibility of any location on the map without even needing to register for an account with the service.  To make this even easier, the map automatically populates with icons at every major point of interest. If no information is known about that location, the icon is grey. Users can then click on the icon to find out more information about the location and to have an opportunity to select one of four radio buttons indicating that the location is accessible, is partly accessible, is not accessible or is unknown. Every time a user makes a change to the status of these icons, the map updates for all users worldwide. While this does have the limitation of meaning that anyone can add potentially incorrect information, the fact that it is so easy to update entries will hopefully mean that any errors are corrected quickly. I do wish that the map included the option to add a note, particularly for buildings that are labelled partly accessible, to indicate the exact nature of any inaccessible portions of the location, but overall this is a great tool for anyone with a mobility impairment. In addition to the browser-based version of the map, users can also download apps for iOS or Android devices to make it easy to use Wheelmap on the go.

Developed in Germany, all of the content on the Wheelmap site is available in both German and English and the map itself can also be translated into many other languages. It is extremely easy to use, especially for anyone who is familiar with how Google maps or a comparable online mapping system works. While there are certain locations that have far more content than others right now, the ease with which users can make changes to the map means that Wheelmap has a huge amount of potential.

While the most obvious user-base for this tool is those with mobility impairments or parents with children in strollers, I think that this is also a great tool for librarians. The most obvious way in which this is the case is in answering reference questions about local accessibility issues. But, because it is so easy to contribute to Wheelmap, I think there is also a great opportunity for librarians to make a contribution to the map either by updating the information about their own institution on the map or by adding information for other local buildings as well to help build a resource for those in their community who currently have few ways to reliably locate accessible buildings. Wheelmap is a great tool and I look forward to seeing how it grows in the future.

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