Disability Access Apps Fall Short
3 September 2013 at 10:38 am
Research into Australia-relevant online and mobile applications (apps) to assist people with disability has found a glaring gap in the local market for apps that profile the accessibility of businesses.
A review by the Australian Network On Disability (AND) has revealed that there are only two homegrown app initiatives to assist people with disability.
The AND review found that whilst there are a myriad of other apps that can be used in Australia, they are based overseas and end up giving distances from Australia to overseas locations.
“Their accuracy is certainly in question, as we’re told we’re only 3473km to the very accessible Hotel Riu Place Jandia in Spain, whereas the real distance is about five times that,” AND researcher Jason Barker said.
“Unlike the UK, there is no Australian website where a business can register its accessibility features. There is no app or website that gives an Australia-wide view of the accessibility of public infrastructure, such as popular museums or concert venues,” Barker said.
“This remains a fantastic untapped opportunity.”
Of the two Australian apps reviewed, BNE was created by Brisbane City Council and focuses on getting around Brisbane. It maps the city’s infrastructure and shows the best way for wheelchair users to travel, based on physical accessibility of entrances, footpaths and taxi ranks. It also has useful information on accessible toilets and seating.
The AND review says while this app has excellent detail on paths of travel around Brisbane, has an accessible toilet listing and is easy to use, it is limited to Brisbane and doesn’t address the accessibility of public venues and businesses.
An app from the Australian Government called ToiletMap (from the Department of Health and Ageing) shows the nearest public toilet and whether it is accessible.
AND says this app is a successful and functioning component of what is an essentially larger project that needs to be undertaken – the mapping out the accessibility of our public infrastructure in Australia.
The review says a search for “Sydney” shows a limited number of toilets within the CBD, not the whole CBD. “It only shows the route to the toilet using a car, which may not be helpful to a wheelchair user getting around on pavements.”
The AND review points to the Wheelmap.org app which has been developed by a Not for Profit in Germany and provides the chance to rate the accessibility of businesses in Australia.
“To our surprise, this German app shows the accessible businesses near our Sydney office,” Barker said.
“Wheelmap.org functions like Wikipedia, using free OpenStreetMap geodata which can be edited by citizens, who can add information about the wheelchair accessibility of places and venues.
“We really like Wheelmap’s suggestion of holding team events to go out and rate the accessibility of outlets near your business as a way of raising awareness of access issues in your city.
The review says online travel agents are also seriously lacking when it comes to providing relevant travel and accommodation information for travelers with disability or special needs.
AND says it is aware of one website which focuses on accessible tourism in Australia called www.australiaforall.com.
“It is described as ‘The International One Stop Shop for Accessible Tourism around the World’ and has some great patronage from Australia tourism, leisure and hospitality businesses.”
“This site is run by a Not for Profit organisation and started in 2007. They have had over 40,000 hits from 64 countries since they launched, but remain under the radar in Australia and are self-funded.
“It would be great if a hotel group or government tourism agency “saw the light” and assisted them with building an app,” the review said.
“At the moment, knowledge about accessibility is based on calls ahead to hotels, restaurants, banks and other businesses by people with disability, their family members and friends.
“We’d like to see an initiative or app that maps the accessibility of major outlets such as department stores and supermarkets, as this may “up the ante” in terms of making these businesses accessible to all.
When people with disability make choices about which businesses to patronise, inaccessible businesses will miss out on new customers and will lose business through word of mouth.
The review looked at three major UK websites and associated mobile phone apps that are provided by the Nationwide Access Register: www.directenquiries.com/, www.inclusivelondon.com, and www.inclusivebritain.com to provide information about accessible services in UK.
“These three sites collectively get 20 million hits per month, indicating the huge demand for information about accessible businesses and services,” the review said.
“Major customer-focused UK businesses use these sites to provide information about their accessible services and premises, such as Lloyds Bank and Sainsbury supermarket chain, as well as pharmacies, theatres, car dealers and more. In the example below, we show the results of a search on the Inclusive Britain site for pharmacies with accessible parking and accessible toilets in Liverpool.
On the British websites, we really like the range of accessibility features that can be searched. Consumers can also add their own reviews of each of these outlets, and can search for businesses based on a range of accessibility features.
UK businesses are smart about attracting the “disability dollar” through such websites/apps that draw a segment of the market that businesses may not be able to service if their premises and services are not accessible.
In the UK, it is estimated that people with disability have £350 billion disposable income per annum. People with disability are people with spending power. Therefore, businesses will prosper by widening their customer base and addressing the access needs of people with disability.
The Review calls for an an initiative or app that maps not only the accessibility of public infrastructure, but also major department stores and supermarkets, as this may “up the ante” in terms of making these businesses accessible to all.
Download the full review HERE.