Mobility on the go: Apps as everyday helpers


They are small, colorful and helpful: the many apps on your smartphone screen. They tell us about the weather, they entertain us and can help us to manage everyday life better. More and more mobile applications are also being designed for seniors and people with disabilities – when it comes to providing assistance in navigation or traffic for instance.

Photo: Woman in a wheelchair in front of an elevator holding a smartphone in her hand; Copyright: Andi Weiland | Sozialhelden e.V.

More and more apps meet the needs of people with disabilities; © Andi Weiland | Sozialhelden e.V.

Being mobile and – most importantly – staying mobile is very important. The objective of the mobisaar project is to improve the mobility options in public transportation for people with disabilities and seniors in Germany’s Saarland. So-called mobility guides can be requested via a passenger app prior to embarking on a ride. The guides offer assistance in getting on and out of buses or trains and also accompany a person from their starting point to the final destination. The guide app coordinates the incoming requests and determines which guides are presently available to handle the new assignments. Passengers can also book the service by filling out an online form, via email or phone.

While the mobile application by mobisaar has more of a facilitator function, there are also apps that offer direct assistance – namely support for people with visual impairments. Apps like BlindSquare or Ariadne GPS enable blind persons to navigate even in unknown surroundings. GPS turns the smartphone into a navigation system. Whether it’s bus stops, restaurants or sights – blind and visually impaired people get the requested information from these apps.

An extra helping of accessibility

In the summer of 2015, the Uber taxi app introduced the uberASSIST option – first in the U.S. and then in London, England. It is designed to help passengers with disabilities in finding specially trained drivers. There is no extra charge for this service and it can be directly reserved using the standard app.

Since May 2016, uber passengers in London are now also able to book wheelchair accessible vehicles via uberWAV. This new function is also available at the same price. According to uber, this service is meant as an addition to the already accessible Black Cabs in London.

Whether the taxi or train is meant to take someone to a particular café also usually depends on whether the location is truly wheelchair accessible and whether it has an accessible restroom as well. This information can be accessed via the wheelmap app that was developed in Germany. In it, users worldwide label locations as "not accessible", "partially accessible" or "fully accessible". The ranking is color-coordinated based on the traffic light rating system. In addition, there are categories, so you can choose to only view restaurants or world heritage sights for example. The German app MyHandicap also works in a similar way.

Photo: Screenshot of the online map by; Copyright: SOZIALHELDEN e.V.

In the wheelmap app everybody can mark accessible places around the world and also search for them of course; © SOZIALHELDEN e.V.

Mobility in your pocket

It is especially important for people with limited mobility to know whether the elevator at the next subway station is working for instance. This is why was created as a joint project of the Berlin association SOZIALHELDEN that also developed the wheelmap app and the Transport Association Berlin-Brandenburg. "The Berlin S-Bahn and BVG’s information on elevator problems is being accessed, analyzed and combined every 15 minutes into a database," according to the web page. Despite all carefulness and diligence, the web page assumes no responsibility for the correctness and accuracy of any information. An expansion to include the Brandenburg region is also currently in the planning stages.

Special projects like these are embraced by the target audience. After all, it takes some up-front planning if you are traveling in a wheelchair. Nobody wants to be surprised when they arrive at the platform.

Whether it’s working elevators, accessible locations nearby or pedestrian navigation for blind or visually impaired people, these types of mobile applications in your pocket can promote independent and self-determined travel.

Photo: Nadine Lormis; Copyright: B. Frommann

© B. Frommann

Nadine Lormis
(translated by Elena O'Meara)

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