For most people, going shopping, to the movies or meeting friends for dinner at a new restaurant, shouldn’t require too much advanced planning. Just show up and walk in.
For wheelchair users such as Jason DaSilva who lives in New York City, these simple actions harbor hidden obstacles that often make them nearly impossible to perform in a wheelchair. He took these activities for granted the first 25 years of his life.
Frustrated by his inability to move around as freely as he liked, DaSilva developed AXS Map — a crowdsourcing platform that allows people around the world to rate businesses for accessibility and, most important, to share that information.
Although the Americans With Disabilities Act (1990) mandated that buildings and other facilities become more accessible to those with disabilities, DaSilva found significant variability in how well the law was executed. In addition, buildings constructed before 1990 are exempt from the regulations.
Described as “a app that works like Yelp for people with disabilities,” AXS Map isn’t intended to rate the extent to which a structure is ADA-compliant; instead it serves as a tool for people with mobility issues to find out which businesses in their community are actually accessible, and to what degree. AXS Map, like Yelp and other crowdsourcing platforms, will become increasingly more useful as users contribute data. Also like Yelp, with more ratings, the most positive or negative reviews are canceled out so users end up with a solid core of realistic reviews.
The app was launched in 2012 as a website and mobile Web app, and is powered by Google Maps. Users are able to rate several features of local businesses for accessibility, which are tallied into an overall star rating.
Instead of leaving the ratings for AXS Map up to specialists, DaSilva wanted members of the disabled community to inform and empower themselves, with the help of friends, family and neighbors, by pooling their evaluations of how accessible facilities really are. “Opening up the ratings to the community is an attempt to bridge the gap between people living with mobility issues and the larger communities that we live in.”
DaSilva sees the app as his legacy for the disabled community. A documentary filmmaker in New York City, he was diagnosed in 2005, with primary progressive multiple sclerosis, a rare, accelerated form of the neurological disorder.
DaSilva and his wife Alice Cook, whom he met while developing AXS Map, have started hosting Mapping Days across the U.S., bringing together volunteers from the community to map entire neighborhoods in AXS Map. The crowdsourcing has the added benefit of raising awareness around accessibility.
With AXS Map, he hopes to help others like him to live as independently as they can.