A Web site and app out of Germany applies the wiki approach to maps, enabling users around the world to use the OpenStreetMap platform to rate and comment on the wheelchair accessibility of a wide range of establishments, from bars and shops to underground metro stops.
Called Wheelmap, the free app for iOS devices is in English, German, and Japanese, and while still in beta (version 1.1 adds Japanese), it already includes details on some 30,000 locations, with roughly 300 new user ratings every day.
Wheelmap is the brainchild of Raul Krauthausen, who wanted to create a service that puts power into the hands of the mobility-impaired. (Krauthausen suffers from a genetic disorder that makes his bones brittle.) "Sometimes I feel I'm treated like a child who isn't allowed to decide specific things by myself," he tells the Associated Press. "I want to remain flexible and not be dependent on when a driving service has time to pick me up."
The set-up is simple. Ratings are shown as color-coded flags--green for go (i.e. totally accessible), yellow for proceed with caution (partially accessible), and red for avoid at all costs (not at all accessible). If a location is unrated, its flag waves a nondescript gray.
Of course, with anyone being able to add ratings (one must be signed in to add comments and edit place details), there are bound to be inaccuracies and even flat-out lies. But Krauthausen is banking on enough people having, well, lives, that trolls messing with wheelchair ratings won't be a major issue.
Having funded the project through a public stipend and private donations, Krauthausen says he hopes Wheelmap proves to be useful for those with wheelchairs, canes, walkers, etc., and that the rating system will pressure business owners to rid their establishments of as many barriers as possible.
Of course the app is merely a guide, and would likely not have helped 80-year-old wheelchair-bound Nefissa Yesuf, a non-English-speaking Ethiopian who was given the wrong boarding pass and thus flown to the wrong city last weekend. A barrier of a different order, perhaps, but then, anyone could ding the Atlanta International Airport page accordingly.