Thanks to the power of crowdsourcing, creating a more accessible experience for travelers could soon be just a click away.
For Matt McCann, creator of Access Earth, finding accessible accommodation while traveling is a necessity, but information on such places can be hard to find.
McCann, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheeled walker to get around, believes accessibility is a wide-ranging issue that many businesses and services don’t fully consider—something he hopes to change.
“On a rollator, I have a different level of mobility than someone in a wheelchair, or someone who uses a walking stick, or just has trouble with a few steps,” McCann said.
For McCann and other travelers with limited mobility, the requirements for accessibility can be a broad spectrum often reduced to a yes-or-no answer on a website or brochure. Thankfully, a number of new crowdsourcing projects, including Access Earth, are aiming to change that through a more inclusive, detailed approach.
McCann got the idea for Access Earth when he took a trip from his home in Dublin to London in 2012. After booking a hotel that’s website claimed it was accessible, it turned out to be anything but.
“When I got there, there were three steps up to the entrance and then the door wasn’t wide enough for the rollator,” he said. “That’s not accessible.”
McCann’s background in information technology allowed him to begin developing a technology-based solution for the problem. What resulted was Access Earth, an online platform that crowdsources information about accessibility in order to make traveling easier for the physically impaired.
Ultimately, McCann and his business partner, Ryan O’Neill, hope that Access Earth will be a definitive guide for travelers with accessibility needs.
Access Earth has already generated a buzz. The project was a World Finalist in the 2014 Microsoft Imagine Cup, and McCann and O’Neill represented Ireland at the 2015 Enactus World Cup. Though they didn’t win, the positive feedback they received from the judges gave them encouragement to move forward.
“We went to the World Cup Finals in South Africa, and it was actually there that we met one of our current advisors who was a judge,” O’Neill said. “She came to us and said ‘There’s a lot you can do with this if you keep going.’”
The product is currently in its beta stage with the majority of its existing content focused on Ireland, though McCann and O’Neill are aiming to have Access Earth ready to go live in the next three to four months. They also plan to add a mobile app, and expand to other regions, including North America.
The Accessibility Movement
Access Earth is one of several projects that are currently using crowdsourcing to make accessibility information easier to find.
Another platform that’s already had a major impact is Accomable, which helps people search for accessible hotels, allowing them to filter their searches based on their accessibility needs. It even connects travelers with equipment rental services that can provide wheelchairs, scooters, walkers and more at their destination.
Srin Madipalli and Martyn Sibley, Accomable’s co-founders, met at a muscular dystrophy support group as children. Like Access Earth, Accomable was born out of the accessibility issues that they experienced while traveling. It now operates in over 30 countries.
Other popular crowdsourced accessibility sites include Washington D.C.-based Is This Venue Accessible, which collects accessibility information regarding music venues, and Legless in Dublin, which offers advice on how to tackle the city despite mobility challenges.
“It’s great that there are other initiatives out there, because it really does help bring attention to the issue of accessibility,” O’Neill said.
While the primary goal of these projects is to provide accessibility information to those who need it, they also bring with them the added benefit of holding businesses accountable so that what happened to McCann in London becomes a thing of the past.
“We’re not here to name and shame businesses,” O’Neill said. “Maybe business will see that they’re not on Access Earth or they’re on Access Earth but they’re rated as not having accessibility features, which might open their eyes.”
McCann said that there are often a few small steps that businesses can take to improve accessibility. With more visibility for crowdsourced accessibility projects, there could be an added incentive for businesses to make adjustments to their facilities.
Meeting the Need
Millions of people all over the world struggle with accessibility issues, so Access Earth and similar projects have a big job ahead of them. Though it can be overwhelming at times, O’Neill said the process has been truly rewarding.
“Getting emails from different users across the world that say ‘This is going to help me in my day-to-day life’ is reinvigorating,” O’Neill said. “It gives you that extra bit of motivation every time I come into the office.”
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