Elche, Spain colors in the Wheelmap

“I am not a disabled person, I live in a disabled city”. This insight, voiced by a participant during last weekend’s accessibility mapping party in Elche, Spain, can be applied to many cities in Europe.  Although Elche has already done a great deal to improve its accessibility for people with mobility impairments, there is still work to be done.

IMG-20150314-WA0003So, in order to inventorize the status quo of the historic city center’s accessibility, and to raise awareness for the need for improvement, the local partners of MyAccessible.EU sent out invitations for a mapping party. The city council of Elche and the Polibienestar Institute of the University of Valencia invited the city’s residents to take part in the event, during which the wheelchair accessibility of public places was rated according to a simple traffic light system used by the online map wheelmap.org. Fifteen enthusiastic participants, seven of them wheelchair users, turned up despite the threatening rain clouds.  Some of the participants were representatives of Spanish disability rights organisations such as “Sin límites” and FRATER. 

Captura2Starting out at the Gran Teatro at the southern part of the city, the mappers split up into two groups and fanned out to map the accessibility of their city. Armed with smartphones or pens and print outs of the Wheelmap of Elche they noted whether the entrances of restaurants, public offices, cafés and stores have steps or wheelchair-friendly level entrances.

CapturaAt the beginning of the day Elche’s section of the Wheelmap showed almost only grey places of interest, meaning that these places had not yet been evaluated on their wheelchair accessibility. At the end of the day the map section had turned into a colorful mix of green, red, yellow and grey markers as more than 100 places were marked that day by the busy mappers.

The activity was very successful in raising awareness for the topic of accessibility among business owners. Many owners and employees came out to see what was going on in front of their shops. The owners and employees of the places that are not accessible had not realized before what a problem this poses for people in wheelchairs. They were happy to receive advice on topics such as installing a ramp or lowering some of their tables to a height appropriate for wheelchair users.

As the event was drawing to a close the first raindrops started falling. Noticing this, a friendly waitress at a restaurant lent the group two umbrellas so that they could complete their mission. The participants who were using their smartphones to mark locations were very enthusiastic about the Wheelmap app and they promised to continue to map places in the future. And they would let their friends know about it too!

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