When you’re using a wheelchair to get around, steps at the entrance to a restaurant can force a change in plans.
“I’m just dependent on information,” says Judyta Smykowski, who is a wheelchair user in Berlin. “Is it accessible? Can I go there with my friend? Or am I going to be the showstopper for the evening?”
This is where an app called Wheelmap comes in. It’s a crowd-sourcing map app that allows users to share information about accessibility —at restaurants, stores, subway stops, and streets — or anywhere else. Places are colour-coded like traffic lights for wheelchair users: green for accessible, yellow for partially accessible, red for inaccessible, with extra designations for things like toilets.
“This really helps reduce the time we have to spend gathering information,” says Judyta, who is a community manager for Wheelmap. “The ideal solution would be stricter laws to make places accessible, but it’s not like that right now so we have to help ourselves.”
The app is free, and it was created around 10 years ago in Berlin by Holger Dieterich and a friend, Raul Krauthausen, who is a wheelchair user. They were both students at the University of the Arts in Berlin. Raul’s major was communication science, and Holger’s was e-business.
“We liked to get together to spin ideas, and we always went to the same coffee shop, and I asked him, ‘Hey, why don’t you come to my neighbourhood and let’s have a coffee there?’ And he said, ‘I don’t know which places I can go, I don’t know what is accessible.’”
So the next idea they developed turned into Wheelmap.