mobility


22
Feb 11

Article in today’s SMH Online

Here’s an interesting article from today’s SMH Online edition. I’ve grabbed it from the App Store and will add some locations to see how it works. It currently tells me I can get accessible drinking water from a place 353m from my house. Like all wikis, it’s only as good as the users!

German iPhone app guides handicapped around cities

MARY LANE

February 22, 2011 – 9:50PM

Raul Krauthausen, who has used a wheelchair since childhood, has always been uncomfortable with the services Germany provides for the physically handicapped, like special taxis and grocery delivery _ saying they feel patronizing and further isolate him from the able-bodied world.

So Krauthausen took matters into his own hands and launched wheelmap.org, an iPhone application and website in German and English that allows users to share ratings and tips on how accessible shops, bars and other places are.

“Sometimes I feel I’m treated like a child who isn’t allowed to decide specific things by myself,” said the 30-year-old who suffers from a genetic disorder that makes his bones brittle. “I want to remain flexible and not be dependent on when a driving service has time to pick me up.”

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It turned out he wasn’t the only one who felt that way. With some 300 new user-ratings daily, wheelmap.org now has details on 30,000 locations. Around 80 percent of tagged spots are in Germany, but site ratings for cities like London and New York are slowly growing, Krauthausen said.

“Wheelmap.org wants to help show people with mobility impairments everything that’s achievable,” he said.

Krauthausen attributes Wheelmap’s success to its availability as an iPhone application and the “Wiki principle” _ the idea that anyone, anywhere can contribute. Users rate locations without registering, but must log in to add specific comments.

Ingo Stoecker, a regular user and beta tester for the app, said he hopes the site will encourage often reclusive handicapped urbanites to explore surroundings they see as potentially perilous to navigate. Some 4.5 million of Germany’s 82 million people are physically handicapped.

“Most or many wheelchair users are rather introverted _ they’d rather not go out,” said Stoecker, who suffers from a birth defect resulting in incomplete spinal development.

“I think if they knew of such an app, they would maybe get out more.”

Stoecker, 30, can navigate very short distances on crutches and drive a special car. He uses Wheelmap to find bars or cinemas for weekend nights in Berlin or traveling outside the city with friends from his wheelchair basketball team.

“It’s helpful when our team is on the road to unknown cities where we have games,” he said on a recent day, using the app to pick out a not-yet rated sandwich shop in Berlin’s Alexanderplatz. “We can see how to get around and what there is to do.”

On the iPhone app, locations are tagged as either green, yellow or red _ totally, partially and not at all accessible. Unrated locations are gray.

Stoecker rated the sandwich shop yellow. It had a curb about four inches (10 cm) high _ low enough for him but prohibitive for more disabled urbanites.

While many large cities from San Diego to Vienna offer guidebooks for handicapped visitors, Anette Stein, an education researcher at the Bertelsmann Foundation think tank, and other experts said they were unaware of any other application that allowed users to add instant comment.

“I find the Wheelmap project highly exciting and can well imagine that it could spread through social networks and consequently see enormous growth,” Stein said.

Beyond helping the handicapped, Krauthausen said he hopes Wheelmap will persuade more business owners to make their stores barrier-free, something Germany legally requires, but in reality is often not implemented.

“Often it’s simply a matter of one or two steps preventing you from getting in. For that, there’s a cheap solution,” he said.

Stein said change will come if businesses see themselves losing customers or developing reputations as handicapped-unfriendly.

“Wheelmap generates a type of pressure on proprietors and establishments and will arguably cultivate an interest for them not to be shown as gray or red, but as green” Stein said.

To finance wheelmap.org, Krauthausen has relied on both private donations and a governmental stipend.

Though he welcomes the public funds, he worries the government might be trying to “buy its way out” of the problem of making handicapped Germans more independent.

“The whole reason there are organizations like ours is because the government has failed to do anything themselves,” he said.

Krauthausen and Stein both pointed to a 2007 United Nations study rating Germany as one of the worst industrialized nations for handicapped accessibility.

The Labor Ministry said things are improving, and that the U.N. study has been a catalyst for improving federal initiatives to aid the disabled; the Cabinet is expected to pass an action plan, written with a focus group of handicapped Germans, in March.


22
Feb 11

Guylian Belgian Chocolate Cafe, Opera Quays

If you enjoy chocolate and good coffee, this place is a must-visit. It is located at Shop 10, Opera Quays, so the view, as you’d expect, is wonderful. You can sit indoors or outside. With a group, I’ve always preferred outside, but there’s good circulation space inside too and a number of smaller tables if you’re sitting alone.

While the primary foods served are sweet — chocolate, cakes and desserts — you can also have a light meal, a beer, glass of wine or champagne. They also serve a full breakfast. The incredible Dark Chocolate Milkshake ($9) is truly to die for.

Access is no issue inside or out. Everything is flat, and there is an excellent accessible toilet inside (no key required), just to the left of the main service area. Given the dearth of accessible toilets around Circular Quay and the Opera House, this one is worth remembering.

Given the location, it’s no surprise that nothing comes cheap in this cafe. However, it’s a special place to take visitors to Sydney, before or after a show at The Opera House, or if you just feel like some decadence with your coffee.


18
Nov 10

Getting off the train, no ramp

I saw something pretty amazing on the way home from work today.

When I boarded in Chatswood, I noticed another guy in a chair in the cabin. He was tucked between the seats near the guard’s compartment, and as the cabin was quite full, I wondered how he would get out when he needed to. I was also partly blocking the way, so kept an eye on him, ready to move when I sensed he was getting off.

As we pulled into Town Hall Station, he moved, and as many others were getting off too, I didn’t need to make room.

I was looking over his head, expecting the attendant to arrive with the ramp for him to roll off. Then I realised he wasn’t stopping at the door. Smooth as silk, he just lifted his front wheels off the ground, balanced, and lowered himself to the platform below on his back wheels. It was a pretty impressive manoeuvre; one I’d not seen before. As well as strength, it would have taken great control. I can’t imagine the guts required to do it for the first time. Town Hall is one of the biggest drops from train to platform of any station – about 20cm I’d guess. And there’s also the gap – at least 10cm.

As we approach The International Day of People with Disability (3 December) it made we wonder how relevant our definition of ‘disabled’ really is.


28
Jul 10

Disabled control wheelchair by sniffing — from today’s SMH Online

An interesting article reprinted today, originally from the LA Times.

Read it here

http://www.smh.com.au/world/disabled-control-wheelchair-by-sniffing-20100727-10ufk.html


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