A new app could revolutionize grocery shopping, entertainment, and travel for people with disabilities living in busy urban areas. By collecting data on wheelchair accessibility and compliance with disability regulations, the app will help people will limited mobility navigate perpetual obstacle courses like New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Eventually, the innovation may also help enforce legislature like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by putting pressure on noncompliant businesses and establishments.
The team behind the innovation is led by Jason DaSilva, a New York City filmmaker who was paralyzed from the waist down at age 25 after developing multiple sclerosis. Frustrated with the city’s many steps, cracked sidewalks, and useless ramps, DaSilva began working on the AXS Map – a comprehensive mapping project that allows users to submit and request data on wheelchair accessibility in metropolitan areas. Since its launch in 2012, the crowdsourcing platform has helped countless New Yorkers go about their day without encountering barriers.
"I found that there was a lack of awareness in general around accessibility," DaSilva said in an interview with Time. "People without disabilities don't realize all the challenges that we face, like is a restroom accessible, is there one small step outside a restaurant that would keep us from being able to get in? It kind of blows their minds when they start to realize all these little details.”
“Opening up the ratings to the community is an attempt to bridge the gap between people living with mobility issues and the larger communities that we live in," he added.
According to DaSilva, a business’ compliance with rights acts like ADA does not necessarily guarantee accessibility for everyone. A lack of uniform standards and regulations frequently results in ramps that are too long, doorframes that are too narrow, and gaps that are too wide. The problem is even greater in cities with older buildings and structures.
DaSilva’s project has received praise from rights advocates as well as policy makers. "I think it's critically important that people like Jason are getting involved and creating change in their own right. It is the only way that this effort will be successful," said Mark Perriello, CEO and president of the American Association of People With Disabilities. "You see a lot of innovation by people with disabilities ... but the number of people who are participating and changing the future, changing their own future by changing society, is far too few."
To expand and promote the new platform, DaSilva and his wife Alice Cook are currently hosting so-called Mapping Days in cities all over the nation. To learn more about the project, visit AXSMap.com.