Following the success of sites like Yelp and Urbanspoon, a company called AbleRoad is using technology to connect people with restaurants and shops, only this time the venues being reviewed are—ideally—accessible to people with disabilities.
The AbleRoad website and app hitches to the crowdsourcing trend and lets people with disabilities review any public space or business. It is integrated with Yelp, allowing users to see both the Yelp and AbleRoad ratings for a business on the same screen. Like Yelp, users can add ratings and upload photos while on location; AbleRoad lets you rate them for many factors relevant to people with disabilities, such as ease of access or the availability of sign language interpreters.
AbleRoad’s site and app are accessible to people who are blind or have low vision and use their own screen reader or Apple’s built-in VoiceOver screen-reading technology on the iPhone and iPad. The app is also available on Google Play.
“I always knew I wanted to create a company related to people with disabilities,” says Kevin McGuire, the founder of AbleRoad who has used a wheelchair since being struck by an intoxicated driver at the age of seven. ”And I wanted it to be something empowering,” he adds.
While the site officially launched today, making AbleRoad a success will require participation from the 57 million Americans with disabilities who patronize, and subsequently write reviews on, the restaurants, stores and hotels they like. Keeping in mind that there are also around 75 million Baby Boomers who may be experiencing age-related disabilities like arthritis, AbleRoad is also seeking input on medical practices and facilities.
The ADA requires public establishments like restaurants and hotels to provide equal access to people with disabilities. Some venues are exempt because they are housed in historic buildings or the architecture makes a full renovation nearly impossible. Private locales like country clubs also are exempt, and buildings less than three stories high are not required by law to have elevators unless they are designed for public consumption, such as a shopping mall or hospital.
Currently only a handful of venues have been rated on AbleRoad. A search for restaurants yields a few good insights, such as high ratings for disability-friendly customer service at a roast beef joint in Boston. I like how the reviews can be categorized by mobility, cognitive, hearing and vision disabilities. For example: Do you have to walk up stairs? Is there braille signage? Is the door easy to operate?
McGuire got his idea working with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who had access issues at the Rose Garden (now called the Moda Center), a sports arena in Portland. “[Allen] was upset at the design mistakes that were made by the architects,” says McGuire, and hired him to provide counsel for CenturyLink field, home to the Seattle Seahawks football team, which Allen owns, as well for Allen’s Experience Music Project (now called the EMP Museum) and the Seattle Cinerama Theater in Seattle.
Today McGuire also works as a consultant to businesses looking for advice on Americans with Disabilities Act compliance issues. He has worked with the Kraft Group, owner of the New England Patriots, on accessibility for its old and new stadiums and for the Hall at Patriots Place, a museum that offers a listening and closed-captioning system for people with hearing loss or deafness.
Another app making waves in the disability community is AXS Map, developed by Jason DaSilva, who has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair. AXS Map (pronounced Access Map) uses the Google Maps and Google Places API to pinpoint exact locations of accessible locales in major cities.
In Brazil, the Accessible Route (Rota Acessível) app allows users to report accessibility problems they encounter in cities, which will be useful as the country prepares for an influx of tourists during the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic games. Again, crowdsourcing plays an enormous role; reviews are light to date though that’s likely to change as more people with disabilities harness technology to improve their quality of life.
Lack of access isn’t always dealbreaker for everyone with a disability. I know many people who will patronize a less-than-inclusive restaurant if the food or service is very good. But these exceptions are usually reserved for five-star steak dinners or that cup of organic Fair Trade coffee you just can’t get anywhere else nearby.
For the more everyday experiences, accessibility matters. Apps like these will press restaurants, hotels and shops to take a closer look at how well they serve their customers, knowing that what they do—and don’t do—to be disability-friendly will now be freely available, on an iPhone and in real-time.