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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.

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

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