People living without disabilities can take for granted how much the built environment is suited for them. It’s easy to walk into a space without noticing the couple of steps you took to reach the door or to forget that the tight spaces in your favorite cozy cafe might make it difficult for a blind person to navigate.
Jason Da Silva cannot take such things for granted. A filmmaker whose work has aired on HBO and PBS, Da Silva was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when he was 25. He now uses a power scooter to get around.
The loss of his mobility made Da Silva acutely aware of the difference between accessible and inaccessible spaces. Routines like taking the subway became impossible and favorite spots to meet with friends became unreachable. Da Silva made a documentary, When I Walk (available on Netflix), about his battle with MS and his gradual loss of mobility.
Wanting to do more than document the challenges he faced, Da Silva set out to take concrete action that would make it easier to get around with a disability. Together he and his wife, Alice Cook, created AXSmap, a crowdsourced map to rate businesses based on how accessible they are.
“When Jason lost the ability to walk he lost the ability to go to a lot of places,” says Cook. “And he had the idea that it would be amazing if people could see if a place is accessible before going there.”
AXSmap functions as both a directory of accessible places and a way for people to leave their own reviews. Users can rate locations on a number of easy-to-understand metrics like how accessible the entryway and bathroom are, the number of steps to the front door, whether or not a place is guide dog friendly, how quiet it is, and more.
All of AXSmap’s rating are designed to be informative for people who have a wide variety of disabilities. The needs of someone with a mobility impairment are different than someone with difficulty hearing or seeing.
“We wanted the reviews to be really simple and something that anyone can do,” says Cook. “We didn’t want the review process to be onerous on the user. So we made it into something that takes just a second of your time.”
Cook says that they eventually plan to implement social features into AXSmap. People who use a power chair to get around experience the world differently than people who use walkers. So if you follow people on AXSmap who have similar impairments to you, it will be possible to see exactly how they experienced a space.