Wednesday, September 23, 2015

More About Access Surveys

3-d white stick figure in a wheelchair at the bottom of a flight of stairs
Last weekend, I posted about the Celebrate Access Equality social media and action event coming up this Saturday, September 26. In addition to Twitter chats and other events, organizer Dominick Evans and I will kick off a campaign, using AXS Map, to document accessibility at businesses and attractions across the United States.

We all run into places that should be more accessible every day, and we rightfully complain about it. We also all know places that have good accessibility, and though we probably reward them with our loyal business, we may or may not share this valuable information with others. Map-based accessibility rating systems like AXS Map may be the best way available to apply grassroots advocacy pressure to improve access, while creating a useful resource to disabled people and their families who also just need to know where they can go for a dinner out, a movie, or a hotel room for a business trip or vacation.

Our plan is to set up a Mapathon at AXS Map, and invite anyone who wants to participate to rate businesses and attractions they visit ... as many as possible from September 26 through the end of the year, December 31, 2015. Every site you rate and enter into the system makes it a more complete resource.

Here are some tips and observations to think about before you get started this Saturday:


Pick a goal for each week. Do one, two, or three places per week. Or, do one a day. If you are out and about a lot most days, maybe commit to reviewing every place you enter. You may prefer to tackle a specific street or a particular neighborhood. Whatever your goal, set it and stick to it.

Figure out what works best for you. Install the AXS Map app and enter review data right there on the spot with your smartphone or tablet. Take notes and enter the data later, when you can stop and concentrate without being noticed or getting in anyone’s way. Or, wait until you get home and use the full website to enter all the data you’ve collected during the day. Whatever method you choose, try not to rely too much on what you remember about a place. Take notes, and enter them while they are still fresh. The sooner you report on a visit, the better.

Decide whether or not you will talk to business owners about what you are doing. AXS Map is designed a lot like Yelp and other customer rating sites. It’s entirely possible to enter accessibility reviews without dealing with the staff. On the other hand, it can be helpful to ask staff about their accessibility features, which may not be obvious to you at first glance. Letting business owners know about the project also makes accessibility a higher priority for them.

Maintain a positive attitude when you do deal with business owners and staff. Be honest, but not accusatory. If you catch some sort of flack about what you are doing, remind staff that it's just like any other kind of online review, except that it's focused on accessibility. It will also be helpful if you can give owners the contact information for a local place where they can get free or low-cost help to make their businesses more accessible. A good place for them to start is your nearest Center for Independent Living.

Use the AXS Map Notes field to add details that the star ratings alone don’t cover. For instance, this is where you might note that the accessible entrance is around the corner, or that the business has a portable ramp you can ask for.


The purpose of a customer review site like AXS Map is not necessarily to document full ADA compliance, but to provide practical information for people with disabilities. The important question is whether a business or a feature of that business is easily and independently usable, not whether it meets every legal requirement.

Independent access is very important. If a customer with a disability would need help to access goods and services, that's better than no access at all, but considerably less than fully accessible.

AXS Map is designed for somewhat subjective reviews. You don’t have to get out a tape measure and provide exact door widths and space analyses of every restroom. You can use your best judgment about whether each feature is accessible, and you can give partial credit for barriers that exist, but may be less severe than others.

On the other hand, it’s important to have some idea of what “accessible” does and does not mean, including some of the key measurements we look for. For instance:

- Doorways that are at least 32” wide.

- Hallways and clear pathways that are at least 36” wide.

- Ramp inclines should be no more than 12 degrees. The easiest way to determine that is to measure the vertical rise the ramp traverses, and the horizontal run of the whole ramp. Ramps should be at least one foot long vertically for every one inch it climbs horizontally. A one foot high step requires a ramp that traverses at least 12 feet in horizontal space. A ramp shorter than that is too steep for ease of use and safety.

- Toilets in stalls should have two grab bars, one on the back wall, the other on the closest adjacent wall.

- Look for clear, level turning and maneuvering spaces that are at least 5’ square. Anything less makes it hard or impossible for a wheelchair to maneuver. This is especially important in restrooms and at the top and bottom of a ramp.

- It’s important to know that a single step can be as much of a barrier as three or four steps. Disabled people don’t always have friends or “caregivers” with them, and accessibility should never rely on staff who are “willing” to lift a wheelchair user or provide some other sort of physical assistance. Some wheelchair users can bump themselves up or down a single, very small step, but anything more than that is a real barrier.

- If your are a wheelchair user or are blind, you may want to have a partner to do surveys with you. That way, you can fully investigate every place you visit, including those with major barriers to entry.

Stay tuned for more information on joining our Mapathon!