While I am by no means a frequent international traveler, I recently had the opportunity to travel to parts of the world that I had never seen before and was fortunate enough to have the time to research and discuss with others any possible issues that may arise. The process, however, required me to spend much more time at my computer than I would have liked, but I still preferred it over the alternative, which was to risk suffering one of the many debacles faced by friends and family members during their travels, oftentimes while away for business. When LGBTIQ issues are involved, those risks can become even more severe.
In many, and some unexpected, parts of the world homosexuality is considered a crime and is sometimes even punishable by death. My objective is to create a set of resources where LGBTIQ travelers can learn about the status and true risks associated with travelling to other countries and provide support it they run into trouble and don't know where to turn. I also wanted create a solution that is both accessible and convenient that also makes available the most important information when it is needed most.
To accomplish this I decided to include three parts to my project. The first is a web application, which primarily targets LGBTIQ travelers when deciding which countries they might like to visit and provides resources for booking flights to those places. Next a mobile app, includes features to used by LGBTIQ people in distress such as travelers facing discrimination or hostile government policies, providing them with a means of safely and anonymously contacting support services that can provide help, or contact company travel managers if travel changes are needed. The third is an offline component that could be used either by travelers during a flight, or during emergencies when an internet connection may not be available.
What it does
At the core of my application is an interactive word map, available on the web, where users can quickly learn about the LGBTIQ friendliness of a particular country as well as any associated risks. Each country is colored based on LGBTIQ laws, and clicking on a country will provide more information about it's legal status, as well as additional resources to help paint a broader picture of the countries LGBTIQ friendliness. Below the map, is a set of taps to display either a list of LGBTIQ events taking place or a set of up to date news articles regarding LGBTIQ rights issues within a selected country.
I also created a mobile app allowing users to access all of the information from the website while on the go. The app includes features designed to help distressed travelers with issues they might face with foreign LGBTIQ issues, including a help feature that gives them the option to anonymously and securely chat through text, voice, or video with a LGBTIQ support organization or instantly contact a company travel services. Both company travel managers and support organizations, such as Outright International can be given credentials so that they can connect directly with those in need.
The mobile app additionally features a set of content available offline so that it can be used when no internet connection is available or even run directly on an airplane's in-flight display unit through the Panasonic avionics platform, for travelers short on time or with spontaneous schedules. The offline app mode also serves as a emergency reference for distressed travelers, with locations and contact information for each countries emergency services.
How I built it
I build the interactive map and article features as a web application hosted on Github Pages. The map is generated using the Google Maps API connected to data stored in Google's Fusion Tables. I used articles from 76 crimes to provide up to date news articles and Wikipedia to supply a list of LGBTIQ events in each country and HPE's IDOL On Demand API to fill in some of the missing information. Additionally I used the AirBerlin API to provide a quick link for booking flights to LGBTIQ friendly countries.
I created an Android mobile app with the functionality of the website passed as a webview. The app includes real time text, voice, and video features using the Citrix Gotoassist Concierge SDK to instantly connect users to LGBTIQ support organizations. I also added a separate interactive map to the app, which appears when the user does not have an internet connection and provides key information about each country including emergency numbers and locations.
Challenges I ran into
During the development of the application I ran into some issues getting third party libraries and SDKs to work in due to version discrepancies. However, my greatest challenge was figuring out how to best utilize the online and mobile tools and platforms I was working on to face international LGBTIQ challenges. Protecting LGBTIQ rights in hostile countries is extremely difficult and I really didn't have any clear direction until I spoke with my mentors.
Accomplishments that I'm proud of
I was able to create a working website and mobile app that are fully functional. I was also very pleased to find an actual LGBTIQ support organization to connect with the platform so that right now a distressed travel could make a call through the app and instantly open a connection with Outright International. I am also very hopeful that by releasing the application, I can prevent a traveler from coming to harm over international LGBTIQ rights issues, aid someone in distress and spread awareness.
What I learned
Aside from learning to work with numerous APIs that I had not tried before I gained the most knowledge during phone conversations with my mentors, Rashima and Mari. When I first put together the basics for my project and gave them my pitch, they quickly were able to point out greatest flaws and help come up with ways to fix them. I was originally going to pitch connecting LGBTIQ refugees to volunteers, likely gay travelers using the site, to offer aid. Once, Rashima and Mari got me thinking about the right questions such as: when someone calls for help, who is going to be on the other side? and during my travels, what information have I needed that wasn't readily available and how could I provide it? I was able to figure out how to tailor my project to it's most likely users.
What's next for Friendly Borders
As far as app features go, the offline interactive map is still a work in progress as it currently only addresses the needs of US travelers, I would like to include versions specific to the user's home country. Other than that my next step is to have people test the app and provide feedback as to what new features should be added, and which existing features should be expanded.