John Tolley, May 31, 2017
Think about how often you go to your phone or mobile device for help with directions.
It's probably more often than you think. Apps like Google Maps are lauded for their ease-of-use, providing clear, understandable results whether you're driving, walking, biking or taking public transit.
But for people with disabilities, direction-assistance apps can leave something to be desired: Important information pertaining to handicap accessibility is often omitted and many apps require overly complicated swipe-and-tap operations not easily performed by someone in a motorized wheelchair or walking with a cane.
Now some University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign students are looking to change that with their new app, Access Illinois.
According to their proposal, Access Illinois uses pre-existing campus accessibility maps, but makes all of their information available on a single page, eliminating the need for toggling between tabs and scrolling. The app also provides users with the location of ramps, accessible entrances, elevators, classrooms and restrooms..
"Disability culture in general is still something that is not always thought of with the importance that it should be," says Access Illinois developer Mark McCarthy, speaking with WCIA News. "A lot of times, especially in terms of digital accessibility, it's thought of as an afterthought. I think that having something like this is a really great first step to showing how easy it is."
There is also an informative and interactive feature to the app with users able to generate and zoom in on pins that provide historical facts about the campus and its relationship with students who have disabilities.
The app, which recently won first place in a campus competition, is still in its beta testing stage, says the development team - two of whom use wheelchairs to navigate the campus. There are still a few features they would like to add before rolling out the app at the end of the summer.
Namely, the group would like to expand individual building maps to included more than one floor. Also, Access Illinois currently deals largely with motor skill related disabilities. The team aims to add a screen reader tool to make it easier for those who are blind to access campus directions.