Wheelmap was launched in the year 2010. Since then, its community has grown and the map has continually expanded. Now the impressive milestone of 750,000 ratings has been passed. Looking back, this is a success story – of the little “wheelchair-tag” and of large-scale engagement.

A great deal has happened in the nearly seven years Wheelmap has been around. It all began in Berlin`s Schöneberg burough when Holger, today´s Wheelmap product manager, assigned the first test marker, labeling Café Bilderbuch as partially accessible.

Now it is March 2017 and the online map has more than 750,000 markers telling us if a public place is wheelchair accessible or not. While people using walking aids or pushing strollers find the map`s information helpful too.

First, there was the new “wheelchair tag” in the OSM

On the technical side, this is an open source success story of a “tag”, the name given to certain snippets of information in mapper jargon. Tags are added to points with a specific longitude and latitude, in order to describe a place with the help of information such as a street name, house number, postal code and node type.

Wheelmap’s first initial step in 2009 therefore was to create a new tag describing the wheelchair accessibility of a place, the “wheelchair-tag”, in the free worldwide OpenStreetMap (OSM) and to gather supporters for its use.

750,000 wheelchair tags – unbelievable!

Luckily, it all worked out better than the Sozialhelden in Berlin ever expected. “We are still surprised at how quickly Wheelmap became known, how it was accepted by the community of wheelchair users and mappers and how much it has grown”, says Raul Krauthausen, in looking back at the last seven years.

The numbers tell us that as of March 2017 more than 750,000 wheelchair accessibility tags appear on Wheelmap – of those, about 423,000 show places that are fully accessible, 144,000 ones that are partially accessible and 182,000 Wheelmap places are not accessible at all.

Active users in Germany and in many other countries

Today, Germany is the most colorful area on the map: there, more than 400,000 tags provide information on the wheelchair accessibility of stores, cafés, cinemas, ATMs, supermarkets and many other places. But users have also been busy in many other countries in Europe and further abroad. In Austria, Italy, Japan, Spain, Switzerland and the United States, between 15,000 and 30,000 places have already been rated per country.

In addition, about 52,000 toilets have been rated since this feature was added in May 2015 and 82,000 photos of entrances have been uploaded to give other users a more precise impression of the conditions at a location.

Active for Wheelmap.org all around the world

These numbers are mostly the result of local, hands-on engagement. Regular mapping activities such as the ones carried out by the volunteer agency of Halle, Germany or by students in Hokkaido, Japan, the photo cooperation with the Streetspotr community, Social Days with the employees of the real estate platform ImmobilienScout, events with schools classes in Berlin and Böblingen, ambassadors in places like Lima, Peru and many other initiatives and activities are examples of how people around the world are helping out and advocating for Wheelmap and for more accessibility.

And of course we do not want to forget the MapMyDay campaign that was launched on December 3, 2015, during which 20,000 new tags were added in a very short time.

On to one million on Wheelmap.org

In order for Wheelmap to keep on growing, the involvement of our community continues to be very important. There are many possibilities for getting involved: in addition to regularly marking places in the neighborhood, it is also possible to organize mapping events, start a project with a school class, become an ambassador, help translate or convince businesses to make their locations accessible with mobile ramps.

Then it will not be long before the Wheelmap community can celebrate the incredible milestone of one million places tagged…

Video: Jörg Farys / Die.Projektoren, 2016

Translation: Silke Georgi