More

His hotel didn't understand what 'wheelchair accessible' meant. So he built an app.

There’s a new app on the horizon that will open doors to accessibility for people with disabilities when they travel.

True
Microsoft Philanthropies

People who have disabilities often come up against unavoidable obstacles when they travel.

Image via Access Earth/Facebook, used with permission.


When Ireland native Matt McCann was planning a trip to London back in 2012, he made sure the hotel fit all his requirements — most importantly, wheelchair accessibility. Since Matt has cerebral palsy, he has to be more discerning about the places where he chooses to stay. After some research, the hotel he chose appeared to check out ... that is, until he got there.

The hotel was not nearly as accessible as it claimed to be online.

There were steps leading up to the reception area that were difficult for him to climb. When he finally made it to his room, he couldn’t fit his rolling walker through the door.

Needless to say, this was a problem. Matt, together with his friend KC Grant, asked for a refund and left the hotel for one that was truly wheelchair accessible.

Matt's experience was eye-opening, and it sparked an idea to improve this lack of accessibility information.

According to Matt, the problem really lies in how hotels currently define "wheelchair accessible."

“Typically, when a hotel advertises itself as wheelchair accessible, they are looking specifically at the hotel rooms themselves," he says. "Rarely can you find specific accessibility information about the exterior of the hotel itself or access to the other amenities in the hotel such as the breakfast room, restaurant, or bar."


Image via iStock.

Despite what hotel owners and managers might think, access to these areas is just as important, and it often makes or breaks a travel experience for people with disabilities.

Matthew, KC, and their friend Jack Gallagher put on their software-engineer caps and came up with an ingenious program: Access Earth.

Access Earth is a platform to search, find, and add accessible locations. The data is compounded through crowdsourcing and can easily be updated by answering “yes” or “no” questions. It also includes virtual tours of hotel properties and local attractions including restaurants and shopping centers.

Image via Access Earth, used with permission.

“The key thing is that everyone’s definition of accessibility is different, and that is what Access Earth aims to address,” Matt told Upworthy.

They were able to complete the app in time to enter it into Imagine Cup in 2014 — "Microsoft’s premier technology competition that tasks students with creating apps that will change the world." Not surprisingly, they made it through the semifinals and ended up landing in third place in the World Citizenship category.

Since then, Matt, his business partner Ryan O’Neill, and their team have been working on expanding their data reach and getting the app mobile-ready.

Image via msuwelfare/Instagram, used with permission.

They’ve started an ambassador program, which encourages volunteers to rate more buildings and add more information to the site. Currently, you can only access Access Earth through its website and via Windows Phone, but iPhone and Android apps shouldn’t be too far behind.

“Everyone’s definition of accessibility is different, and that is what Access Earth aims to address."

The company plans to take Access Earth to the United States within the next 12 months. Right now, it's in beta testing but open to anyone to use.


Image via Access Earth, used with permission.

The future looks bright for this determined little start-up.

While expansion will be a challenge because it comes with accessibility guideline discrepancies, they remain optimistic. Until then, it’s all about continuing to cultivate their user base and develop their online presence so people with disabilities can find them.

Their goal is to make businesses prioritize universal accessibility in their building plans rather than add in accessible additions as an afterthought.

However, the only way for them to really succeed is with your help. If you’ve recently been to a hotel that had particularly good accessibility for individuals with disabilities, go to their website and add it to the list.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

TikTok about '80s childhood is a total Gen X flashback.

As a Gen X parent, it's weird to try to describe my childhood to my kids. We're the generation that didn't grow up with the internet or cell phones, yet are raising kids who have never known a world without them. That difference alone is enough to make our 1980s childhoods feel like a completely different planet, but there are other differences too that often get overlooked.

How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

And '80s hair? With the feathered bangs and the terrible perms and the crunchy hair spray? What, why and how?

Keep Reading Show less
Pets

Ginger the dog reunited with family 5 years after being stolen

Ginger's family never gave up hope, and it payed off.

Ginger the dog was missing for five years before being reunited with her family.

A sweet pup is finally home with her family where she belongs after way too many years away.

Ginger the dog was stolen from her family back in 2017. Her owner, Barney Lattimore of Janesville, Wisconsin, never gave up the hope that his sweet girl was out there somewhere. Whenever he'd see a dog listed on a rescue website or humane society website that even remotely resembled his Ginger, he would inquire about the dog. Unfortunately, it was never her. You'd think that after a while he would stop, but if he had, he likely wouldn't have gotten the sweetest reunion.

Keep Reading Show less

"Veteran" mom and "new" mom parent differently.

When a couple has their first child, they start out with the greatest of intentions and expectations. The child will only eat organic food. They will never watch TV or have screen time and will always stay clean.

But soon, reality sets in and if they have more kids, they'll probably be raised with a lot less attention. As a result, first-born kids turn out a bit differently than their younger siblings.

"Rules are a bit more rigid, attention and validation is directed and somewhat excessive," Niro Feliciano, LCSW, a psychotherapist and anxiety specialist, told Parents. "As a result, firstborns tend to be leaders, high achievers, people-pleasing, rule-following and conscientious, several of the qualities that tend to predict success."

Keep Reading Show less