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Government, Crowdsourced Data Might Help People with Disabilities Get Around

A project out of Seattle is looking to make the daily grind easier for the people who have a tougher time moving about ever-changing cities.

For someone in a wheelchair, directions to a place a few blocks away can be a whole lot more complicated than they might be for a person who has full use of their legs. There are stair-only pathways to consider, elevator locations, slanted sidewalks, curbs and hills.

But government data — and possibly crowdsourcing — might be able to help make those trips a little easier. In Seattle, one organization has put together a service called AccessMap that aims to provide routing around the hill-laden city for people with disabilities. The service uses data sets from several sources, including the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) and the U.S. Geological Survey, to show where bus lines are, where ramped curbs exist, which streets have steep grades and more.

The service is still young. According to an article from NextCity, the project won a civic hackathon event in March last year and is still struggling to find complete data sources. The locations of ramped curbs, for example, was sometimes inaccurately marked in SDOT data. Another issue is sidewalk construction projects, which can be difficult to keep track of.

That last issue is the kind of thing the city of Los Angeles has aimed to address with the January launch of a massive mapping portal called GeoHub. The city noted that the map will allow users to plot out the timing and location of construction projects alongside many other types of data.

For other hard-to-track issues such as buckling sidewalks, AccessMap is looking to add crowdsourced data into the mix. That might come from Open Street Maps, which allows users to report geo-tagged information.

And Seattle isn’t the last stop for the service, either. According to NextCity, the map’s creators are working to expand AccessMap to Denver and Savannah, Ga.

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.

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