Mapping disabled-friendly buildings and facilities
Leveraging Google Maps, Accessible Places categorizes places based on services such as banks, ATMs, etc.
Mumbai: It would solve so many of my problems if I knew which places were disabled-friendly,” said Asha Sinha, a 52-year-old whose leg was afflicted by polio.
Sinha, who lives in the Mumbai suburb of Andheri, uses an electric wheelchair to get around. However, her movements are limited to her home, since most outdoor places do not have any support structures like ramps for easy access. “Every time I step out, I need two people to accompany me to lift the wheelchair,” she says.
The Maharashtra government may have a solution for Sinha and 26.8 million more people with disabilities in the country, according to the 2011 census. The government’s directorate of information technology launched a mobile phone application called Accessible Places in February, where users can locate disabled-friendly places in the state.
The idea for the app comes from the Persons With Disabilities Act, 2012 (PWD Act), which emphasizes on equality and non-discrimination which extends to all disability categories.
“The disabled should enjoy the freedom and liberty to move to places they wish within the jurisdiction of the state or country. The government of Maharashtra is focused on promoting the rights of persons with physical disabilities through a range of social welfare approaches,” says the directorate.
Leveraging Google Maps, the app, which is still in early stages of development, categorizes places based on services such as banks, ATMs, libraries, hospitals, schools, parking, heritage sites, metro stations, railway stations, restaurants and parks.
Users can search for a location by selecting the type of service and the application shows all the places in that category on the map which accommodates the special needs of people.
Accessible Places is a crowd-sourced app, which means its accuracy and coverage depend heavily on the users updating the information.
Users can also add photos of places while adding information to make it more user-friendly.
For example, Mumbai’s Ghatkopar metro station carries the disabled-friendly stamp on it on the app’s map. A picture uploaded by a user shows textured tiles intended to give a good grip to those using wheelchairs. It also says the station has an elevator wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair and has a ramp from road level up to the elevator, enabling easy access.
“Very few places are disabled-friendly in India,” says Janaki Pillai, director of operations at Ability Foundation, a non-governmental organization working for empowerment, integration and rights of people with disabilities. “However, we are seeing a more conscious effort, especially from the newer buildings, to make them more inclusive.”
A first-of-its kind initiative from a state government, the app is available on all Android devices. iOS and Windows Mobile versions are also on the cards. It is free for use and does not need registration.
“The app is one of the means by which we are extending support for sustainable and inclusive growth of the differently-abled persons and ensure they can visit places of their needs and those are accessible easily by the means of technology,” the directorate said.
The organization believes that technology will help address crucial needs of the differently-abled. “People are now highly engaged with technology with the help of their smart phones. And mobile apps cater to every need and every aspect of life.”
The number of smartphone users in India was 51 million last year, which is expected to more than double to 104 million in 2014, according to the fourth edition of consultancy Deloitte’s estimates for the technology, media and telecommunications in India.
Mahaonline Ltd, a four-year-old joint venture between the state government and Tata Consultancy Services Ltd funded the app development.
Mahaonline focuses on facilitating e-enablement and delivery of citizen-centric services.
Only a few disabled-friendly places are mapped at present, but the government hopes to map almost all state facilities soon and then nationwide infrastructure.
The government is looking for proactive initiative from regional areas as well. It is also insisting that all departments and private organizations create provisions for the disabled in any new infrastructure or facility being set up. More disabled-friendly places will make the application richer and more useful.
“Though the impact of the initiative is not visible as of now, the Maharashtra government will make deliberate efforts for more mature and sustainable use of technology to the advantage of physically- challenged people,” the directorate said.
The government also hopes this application will be a catalyst to change the mindset of other governments and the people at large to address the basic needs of this section.
“Fruits of the labour in terms of infrastructure changes and creation of a huge database where physically challenged persons can browse for accessible places will be visible in the near future,” said the directorate.
“This app is a great beginning,” said Pillai of Ability Foundation. “And the disabled will have a vested interest to make it better.”
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