Life with MS

MS-TECH 101 Using Technology to Help Embrace Your Mobility Aid

By Joanne Fortunato

Mobility issues can take many forms. Whether you use a cane, a walker, or even a wheelchair, finding accessible public places can be a big challenge. The Americans with Disabilities Act has helped make it much easier to navigate the many challenges of public places, but there is certainly more to be done. This is a worldwide problem and because society has become much more global, there are global solutions. There is a global initiative, Wheelmap, you can use and participate in to help make life easier for people with disabilities of all types, not just MS.

Wheelmap was designed by the German Organization SOZIALHELDEN (Social Heroes). To learn more about this organization check out Wheelmap opens in German, but it is simple to switch to English or a number of other languages. To get started, open a web browser, even on a smartphone or tablet, and go to Wheelmap is designed to help you find wheelchair-accessible places all over the world. Once you have loaded the site, take a few minutes to read and learn more about this initiative by reading the FAQ section listed at the top of the page.

You can zoom in and out, and find specific locations in much the same way most map programs are used. However, the sites on the map are color-coded. Green is fully wheelchair accessible, yellow means partially accessible, and red is not accessible. A gray marker means the site has not been rated. In addition, sites are also marked for toilet accessibility. The sites are divided into categories. Looking at all the sites on the map at the same time is overwhelming. However, you can choose to show sites by category. This makes viewing the sites much more manageable.

If you are planning a trip, check Wheelmap to preview the accessibility of your chosen place. It might make you feel more secure about being able to navigate the area. That alone would make this site a great addition to your accessibility toolbox. However, this site is much deeper than just a simple map. When using this site you have a chance to help others in the disability community. Wheelmap allows users to make important changes to the map. If a site is marked incorrectly, or has changed recently, you can fix it. If a site is not marked, you can mark it. Best of all, you can add sites that are not on the map. This sounds complicated and technical, but it is really fairly simple.

In the Get Involved section of Wheelmap, there are great suggestions for how you can help make this initiative more successful.  According to their website, “Wheelmap is based on the free world map OpenStreetMap and all the data is stored there. The data sets are published under the Open Database License and are available to anyone and can be used free of charge.” If you want more information, go to

In order to make changes to Wheelmap, you have to join OpenStreetMap. When you login to Wheelmap you are given an OpenStreetMap popup box. The first time you login you will need to register for an OpenStreetMap account. It is simple and free. Just follow the prompts. Once registered, you will be set for all future Wheelmap logins.

 When you click on a place that has not been marked, you can check the boxes of any changes you want to make and then save your changes. If you click on a place and it has been marked incorrectly, click the arrow next to the color you want to change. Again, be sure to save your changes. To add a new place, click on the green “+ add a new place” box and follow the prompts. Make sure you have all the information needed, such as address and contact information if you know it. You will be asked to move the marker on the map to the correct location.

There are apps for this program for both Android and Apple. The Android app seems to work well. It seems to function much like the website. However, the Apple app is very buggy and it was difficult to get it working. Use the website instead.

This is an open-user system which means it is based on a system of public trust. The lightning symbol at the bottom right of each listing allows you to report any problems you may find. The map is remarkably accurate, especially considering how many people have access and contribute to the map. This project, like many other social media projects, demonstrates how the power of technology can help bring the world together to improve people's lives.