Data Puzzling for a Good Cause
What crosses your mind when making a reservation in a nice restaurant? Is it the location and atmosphere of the place? The type of cuisine they offer? The price of food and drink? Many people have these thoughts in mind when making their choice – however, accessibility can be an even more relevant aspect. A narrow doorway here, an unexpected step there – that’s all it takes to prevent mobility-impaired people from free movement and participation. To make matters worse, information on the accessibility of public places is not always readily available. Hence, far too often the mobility-impaired are unable to use public transportation, eat out, go shopping or partake in many other activities.
The Berlin based non-profit organization Sozialhelden (“social heroes”) is enabling people with mobility impairment to become more independent and participate in society. In 2010, social heroes created Wheelmap.org. This is an open and free online map that empowers users to share and access information on the wheelchair-accessibility of public places.
Wheelmap.org provides internet based apps enabling anyone to collect and access information about the wheelchair accessibility of a public place. With an easy traffic light system (Yes / Limited / No), anyone can tag the wheelchair accessibility of public places like restaurants, supermarkets, banks or hotels. The crowdsourced open data is easy to handle, free to use and can be shared with others. Translated into 22 languages, Wheelmap.org is a global map that can be used by anyone, anywhere. It is based on OpenStreetMap, an open licensed map of the world created by thousands of volunteers.
Over the past five years information on about 560,000 places worldwide has been collected, but there is still a lot to do. “The process sharing information is easy for the individual mapper, however it takes a long time to collect huge quantities of data from single users”, explains social heroes´ co-founder Raul Krauthausen. “We realized that in order to really fill Wheelmap with information, we would have to find another process of contributing data to the system. We would have to get companies as well as public authorities and the like to share their accessibility data”, he adds. “We know that there are large data sets out there that we could use. For example, a lot of chain stores know exactly which of their stores are accessible and which aren´t. They have files full of data sets that would be extremely useful for Wheelmap.org.”
Authorities and companies were open to support Wheelmap and to provide their data. But there was still the technical challenge of data matching. Social heroes’ experts have worked hard and – with financial support of FedEx – developed a tool that integrates big data sets into their existing database without duplicating. POIchecker.de is a solution where local mappers verify new data entries. While POIchecker compares the companies or authorities data with the existing data of the Openstreetmap, the local mappers decide which bits of data from which of the two sources corresponds to the actual situation of the place. As a result of this puzzle solving the existing entry in the map is updated or a brand new entry appears.
“We are now able to process big data sets much more efficiently and reliably, which is huge progress for us. It also helps in increasing the number of places shown on Wheelmap.org”, says Raul. “We can´t wait to get more data to make many people´s lives easier!”
Photos: Sozialhelden e.V.