A New York City filmmaker with a rare form of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is hoping a new crowdsourcing tool that enables people to rate places and businesses on their accessibility will help change the face of disability.
Two years after being diagnosed with Primary Progressive MS, Jason DaSilva discovered how difficult it was to navigate New York – from restrooms to restaurants to subway stations – as his disease progressed. It was then that he discovered that people with disabilities often suffer a “civil death” due to being excluded from many of the physical barriers of society.
“That’s when I came up with the idea for an application or website devoted to changing this,” DaSilva says. “That’s what began AXS Map.”
DaSilva, who is now in a power chair, in 2012 launched AXS Map, a crowdsourcing tool that allows users to rate several features of local businesses based on accessibility and consolidates those ratings into an overall accessibility rating. Like YELP, Foursquare and other crowdsourcing tools, the website relies on users to contribute data, meaning the website will become more useful as more data is contributed. The more users who contribute also will provide more realistic and reliable ratings, DaSilva says.
“It has to come from the community, and I feel like it’s going to be something that is valuable for them,” DaSilva says, pointing to his hope that the tool will help ease the burden of social exclusion for individuals with disabilities – a burden that can often be more difficult than the disability itself.
Anyone can contribute to the website – from able-bodied individuals to wheelchair users to those with canes, walkers and parents with baby strollers. In an effort to keep the tool simplistic, DaSilva did not develop it to include ratings on the extent to which a building or business is compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
“I think what AXS Map does is gives a more human touch, which I think is what’s missing with the ADA,” DaSilva says. “What we’re creating is something that can be done by the people and for the people.”
Lee Page, associate advocacy director at Paralyzed Veterans of America, believes the AXS Map tool can be useful for Paralyzed Veterans members, particularly as users can provide their own personal ratings, allowing for more valuable and unbiased reviews than traditional outlets like city restaurant guides.
“I would compare it to a website like Angie’s List, and that might be helpful for individuals with disabilities depending on what they’re looking for,” Page said.
DaSilva hopes that as the tool garners more traction and ratings that it will help hold businesses more accountable for making their buildings accessible and that it will change public perceptions of the challenges that individuals with disabilities face. “Right now, it’s all about getting more ratings in the tool,” he says. “Over time, I think it’s going to become one of those things that people start talking and thinking about.”
A filmmaker by trade, DaSilva chronicled his journey with MS in his new documentary When I Walk, which opened theatrically in New York City October 25, 2013. The film was a selection for the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and was winner of the best Canadian feature at HotDocs 2013. For upcoming screenings of the film, click here.
“While I miss the incredible spontaneity and unlimited access to the city I had – and am developing ways to make that more of a possibility for those with mobility challenges through AXS Map – my diagnosis was not the end of the world,” DaSilva writes in a statement about the film. “Instead, and with a bit of determination, it has proven to be a new way for me to see and be in the world.”
Learn more about AXS Map
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.