The built environment is not always inclusive. This issue arises from the fact that it has a range of barriers: trip hazards, poorly designed surfaces, pavements that are too narrow, steps, steep slopes and other potential dangers, both large and small. The result is that people with disabilities are often excluded from society and the workplace, due to the difficulty or relative impossibility of accessing a given location. This problem applies to people who might not be traditionally seen as ‘disabled’, for instance for people with mobility impairments or frailty arising from age. Part of the problem is that these barriers are difficult to document in an objective manner, and without the knowledge of where the hazards lie, local councils are unlikely to do anything about them.
WheelieMap efficiently documents these barriers so they can be addressed and prioritised. WheelieMap is a smartphone app that attaches to the back of a manual wheelchair and records video, GPS location and movement sensor data. The wheelchair user can then review this data and pick out anything they consider to be a potential problem. The combination of location, movement and video data provides them with evidence to document barriers in the built environment. Crucially, it gives the power to identify barriers to people with disabilities, with the particular motion of a wheelchair making it easier to quickly flag potential barriers that town planners may not have considered.
WheelieMap was developed by Reuben Kirkham, and is currently in a consultation phase. Eight participants so far have tested an early working prototype, including a range of wheelchair users and town planners. This reflects the diverse audiences of WheelieMap: it is useful to wheelchair users as a way of documenting their difficulties navigating the urban environment, and is also useful to town planners to help design a more accessible built environment.
The next step in the WheelieMap development process is to build an enhanced version that will make the reports visible and accessible to both disability advocates and local authorities. Reuben hopes this will encourage advocacy to improve the accessibility of our towns and cities, and make it easier for local authorities to plan developments that are more inclusive for people with a range of disabilities.
For more information please contact Reuben Kirkham.