My father was diagnosed with MS in 2001 and over the past couple years he has been dependent on a power chair to get around. We have traveled all over the country together and have experienced all levels of accessibility. Upon moving to NYC to attend grad school at Parsons School of Design my family would visit frequently. It took a lot of preparation and research to accommodate my father's needs. We would have to call ahead to restaurants and figure out the best way for him to get from place to place. Though all of NYC's buses are accessible, they are slow and can be a hassle to board and exit the bus. We decided to use the subway system since that is what I was most familiar with. It took us a few times traveling the subway to realize the right way to board the train and which lines were accessible. The MTA subway is hard to decipher when looking for accessible stations and sometimes the elevators are out of service which left us stranded. I saw a gap in the market for a visualized accessible subway map and elevator statuses and decided to create Wheely.
How it works
Wheely enables wheelchair users to better navigate the New York subway system featuring:
•A custom accessible subway map - We received official maps from NYC and Co. and stripped them down to display only the accessible stations making the maps easier to read and navigate.
•Fully integrated Google Directions the exact elevator GPS locations - Wheely NYC is the only company that have this data set. We weren't even able to obtain the Elevator GPS data from the city. I went around to each and every subway elevator and logged the exact GPS location and took a picture of the elevator to help users orient themselves.
•Real time elevator statuses - This is where Wheely NYC takes advantage of the open source data provided. We used the live .xml data feed for the subway system. The app is constantly checking for changes.
Challenges I ran into
The .xml data set station names do not follow any certain style and are not consistent with the way the names read on the map. This was our biggest hurdle to come up with an algorithm to match the station names from the .xml data to the names on the map.
Accomplishments that I'm proud of:
In about five months we have obtained about 500 iOS users! Its wonderful to know that we are helping wheelchair users use the subway system.
We also ran a Kickstarter last summer to help us fund the development of iOS. We raised about $7,500 and were showcased by Kickstarter as project of the day!
What I learned:
I'm learning that such a small thing can have such a large impact on peoples lives. Wheely is not some super complicated technologic app. But it took about two years of research and my time logging data to make it possible. But what I'm learning is that we need more "small things". Along the way of creating Wheely we are learning that there is a need for accessible reviews place for NYC too. Some kind of resource where a user can log on and find restrooms, things to do, and restaurants that are 100% ADA compliant.
What's next for Wheely NYC:
Winning this challenge will allow us to develop the app for Android users, fix some bugs, and do a little redesign of Wheely. We would ultimately like to incorporate and accessible review platform into Wheely where users can find, rate, and review accessible places in NYC.