Accessibility app among ways to help wheelchair users find their way

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A screenshot of the app WheeLog! shows accessibility information for Yokohama’s Chinatown. Routes that wheelchair users have been able to take are shown.

Improving accessibility is an important task ahead of this summer’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. A smartphone app that helps wheelchair users easily identify accessible paths is becoming more detailed. Digital maps providing the location of slopes, steps and other needed information are also being created. The government has also begun to provide information on accessible locations to promote accessibility, which is still in the developmental stage.

Helping others

“I think I can go over this height in a wheelchair,” said wheelchair user Kyoko Yasuda of Niiza, Saitama Prefecture, as she checked the steps in front of a restaurant in Yokohama’s Chinatown on April 18.

Yasuda came to the district to participate in an event organized by WheeLog, an organization that runs the WheeLog! app for wheelchair users.

The app’s maps show the routes that other wheelchair users have been able to take. It also has a function that allows users to post the height of steps and other information.

“I’ve been using a wheelchair since I was in middle school,” Yasuda said as she toured the Chinatown district with 20 other participants. This type of event is regularly held to gather more information for the app.

“I tended to go to places where I knew I wouldn’t have any problems using my wheelchair, but my options have expanded after I started using the app,” she said. “I want to help provide more information.”

The app was developed about four years ago to help wheelchair users when they go out. As of April, about 29,000 people were registered on the app and more than 8,000 kilometers of routes have been recorded, mainly in the Tokyo metropolitan area and the Kansai region.

Users can also get detailed information on facilities and restaurants from the comments and photos posted on the app, such as “the accessible restroom is spacious and easy to use” or “the height of the restaurant tables can be adjusted to accommodate wheelchairs.”

More than 40,000 kinds of relevant information have been posted on the app. However, information on routes in regional cities is still limited.

“We would like to gather more information, which only wheelchair users can provide, to help make traveling less of a hassle,” said WheeLog President Yuriko Oda.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Wheelchair users help provide information for the WheeLog! app, such as by checking the height of steps and other obstacles, in Yokohama’s Chinatown on April 18.

Compiling information

Under the accessibility law enforced in 2006, some public facilities and streets around areas such as railway stations are required to meet accessibility standards. As of the end of fiscal 2019, 61% of the facilities subject to the law had accessible equipment, such as accessible restrooms. For streets subject to the law, 63% of them were free of steps and had tactile paving installed as of the end of fiscal 2018.

The issue for wheelchair users is that this information needs to be looked up for each facility or station area when determining travel routes, so accessibility information needs to be compiled into a single source.

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry is working on a project to compile and publish information on accessibility, with the development of a route guidance app in mind.

The project aims to compile information on accessible locations from entities such as local governments, railway business operators and road administrators and publish it in a unified format for the private sector to use.

As of April, information on about 500 locations has been published on the ministry’s website.