Background and Facts

Wheelmap

Wheelmap is a map for finding and rating wheelchair accessible places. On www.wheelmap.org people from all over the world can find and add places to the map – and rate their wheelchair accessibility by using a traffic light system. The map, which has been available since 2010, helps wheelchair users and people with mobility impairments to plan their day more effectively. Currently, more than 700,000 cafés, libraries, swimming pools, and many more public places can be found on the map. More than 300 new entries are added on a daily basis. A free Wheelmap app is also available for mobile devices so that the map can easily be used with smartphones.
Wheelmap is an initiative of the nonprofit organiziation SOZIALHELDEN. Its team of young activists has been developing creative projects which call attention to social problems and offer practical solutions since 2004. You can find more information at www.sozialhelden.de.

Facts

…about Wheelmap

  • www.wheelmap.org and the corresponding app went online in 2010
  • As of now, more than 680,000 places have been marked, the majority are “fully wheelchair-accessible”
  • Every day approximately 300 new entries are added
  • www.wheelmap.org is a worldwide map, but approximately one third of the places which have been added so far are in Germany
  • Wheelmap is available in 22 languages, among them Arabic, Danish, German, Greek, English, Spanish, French, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Swedish, Turkish, Korean, Polish and even Klingon. New languages are added regularly.
  • Wheelmap could be implemented thanks to numerous prizes which the SOZIALHELDEN have won. These include the “German Citizen Award” in 2010 and the “German Commitment Award” in 2009. Wheelmap itself was awarded the “Selected Landmark in the Land of Ideas” in 2011.

…about the topic

  • In Germany, there are 1.6 million wheelchair users.
  • It is estimated that there are 85 million wheelchair users in the world –  but this figure could be as much as three times higher.
  • 4.8 million people use a wheeled walker in Germany. As the population gets older, this number will continue to grow.

Background

Wheelchairs, elevators and ramps allow people with mobility impairments to get around independently to a great extent. But frequently the last meters decide whether the trip to the cinema, beer garden or supermarket was worth the effort. Just one step at the entrance can be an insurmountable obstacle. And this is where Wheelmap comes into play: Users provide information for other users on how accessible a location is. Thereby, the map contributes to an active and diversified lifestyle for wheelchair users. People with wheeled walkers or buggies benefit from this tool as well. Furthermore, the aim of Wheelmap is to make owners of wheelchair-inaccessible public places aware of the problem. They should be encouraged to reflect on and improve the accessibility of their premises.

How It Works

Wheelmap is based on OpenStreetMap, an open, editable map of the world. Everyone can search for places on Wheelmap and get information on their wheelchair accessibility. Users are also able to add and rate new places using a simple traffic light system: Green means that a place is fully wheelchair accessible, a yellow place is partially accessible and a red marker indicates a place that is not accessible for wheelchair users.

Raúl Krauthausen on Wheelmap.org

How did you come up with the idea for www.wheelmap.org?

Raúl: The idea developed from a real, everyday situation: A friend of mine would complain about having to meet me in the same café every time we wanted to get together. We both didn’t know in which other cafés we could meet without me being hindered by a step at the entrance. This is a classic example of how physical barriers restrict the lives of about 1.6 million wheelchair users in Germany every day. It occurred to me that a map which shows the wheelchair accessibility of places in the area would be helpful. That was the beginning of www.wheelmap.org and the corresponding Wheelmap apps. The actual launch of the map took place in the summer of 2010.

How are places rated?

Raúl: Some fundamental things are important to consider when checking if a store or restaurant is wheelchair-accessible or not. First, you need to check: Is it possible for me to get into the place as a wheelchair user? Are there steps or a ramp at the entrance? Then you need to check if every room of a location is accessible. If that is the case, the place is considered fully wheelchair-accessible.
On site you can enter the result into the free Wheelmap app via your smartphone. If you do not have a smartphone along, you can add the information later on www.wheelmap.org. A wheelchair accessible place shows up with a green marker on the map for every other user to see. Places which are partly wheelchair accessible are marked yellow and red marks indicate inaccessible places. You can also enter your own comments to a place, including details such as: “Access is possible using the terrace.” It was very important for us that the app be easy to use both for finding places and for entering new information, so that even people who are not very technically experienced can participate as well.

How widespread is the use of Wheelmap?

Raúl: The map has been online since September 2010. In November 2010 it was made available for mobile devices. The Wheelmap app for smartphones provides information on more than 680,000 places around the world. Wheelmap benefits from the fact that smartphones are used so widely. Every day approximately 300 new places are marked on the map and thousands of users consult the map to plan their day.

Is the Wheelmap only for wheelchair users?

Raúl: The main target group are wheelchair users, but people with wheeled walkers and families with buggies are also restricted by physical barriers in everyday life. They too can benefit from www.wheelmap.org.
Of course all people – disabled or not – can make an important contribution to a more accessible society by collecting information for Wheelmap.

What does the future hold for Wheelmap?

Raúl: We want to become better known throughout Germany – and also internationally – and thereby enable more wheelchair users to lead an active and varied life. As more places are marked in other cities, the map will become increasingly useful to more and more people. We also want to expand the number of languages that we offer. We will be cooperating increasingly with local organisations and city administrations which have similar databases of accessible places.
The Wheelmap user group will very likely change somewhat in the future. There are already about 4.8 million people using wheeled walkers. We are assuming that this trend will increase continually as the population gets older. Hopefully Wheelmap will help more and more people to face fewer barriers in the future.

Can you give an example of how Wheelmap makes life easier?

Raúl: As a resident of Berlin I can find out where I can eat a Bavarian veal sausage when I am visiting Munich without having to turn back at the front door of a restaurant. Thanks to Wheelmap, millions of people with mobility impairments now have a guide for wheelchair accessible places at their fingertips. With Wheelmap it is easier to discover new places and to meet other people, both with and without disabilities. That is inclusion through and through and exactly what Wheelmap is about.