After 30 Years, Making Accessibility Information Accessible – Forbes

360-access's founders Madonna Long (left) and Joann Peterson (right).

Remember Yelp? You know, that archaic crowd-sourced web tool that helped you find a restaurant that meets all of your picky, prickly foodieprerequisites? (Yeah, I know remember restaurants?) Well, even when restaurants were a daily and nightly thing, Yelp wasntmuch help for people with disabilities looking for an accommodating, accessible place to dine. Thats why creating a Yelp-like guide for people who need or simply prefer such accommodations has been one of a few Holy Grail-type goals for techies interested in accessibility and disability tech.

But despite numerous attempts, no one has really reached the scale needed to become a dependable, multi-city or national resource, and reliable information about the true accessibility of everyday destinations remains elusive at best.

Now, two women who are both longtime wheelchair usersthink they may have solved this riddle. Their product, 360-access.com, debuts fittingly on July 26, the by now well noted 30th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).Co-founders Joann Peterson and Madonna Long are turning the concept of crowd-sourcing on its head, instead boldly asking the venues themselves to provide the information for disabled, older and otherwise constrained consumerssuch asthe presence and quantity of stairs, accessible bathrooms, Braille or online menus, hearing induction loops, sound levels and more.360-Access will providethese opt-in venues with a survey that will enable managers to quicklynote their business accessible strengths and weaknesses, givingcustomers an accurate picture of what to expect.With thatand a small annual sponsor fee, restaurants andothervenues will become listed in the app, making it easy for consumers to choose a destination that suits.

On the consumer side, people in the disability community can become members of 360-accessat no cost and will receive regular info about upcoming discounts or events involving sponsors. Members or not, they willbe able toverify the venue-supplied information and add their own reviews or comments.

Such verification is critical, because sometimes compliance with ADA guidelines is, unfortunately, no guarantee of design quality, and also because some managers may make overlyoptimistic or even knowingly falsestatements about how accessible their business really is.

Reviewers will also requirereviewing. All reviews are subject to an internal review before they go live, says Peterson. There will be numerical ratings, and fouled or abusive language wont be permitted.

Will it be hard to get owners and managers to sign up, especially if they have to fill out a survey that acknowledges a lack of compliance? 360-access takes a welcome reality-based approach. We would love the world to be 100% accessible for everyone, Peterson says. But we arent here to talk about compliance.Were here to talk about what exists todayand in the future.If businesses provide information about the features they do havebased on ADA guidelinesthen the person with a disability will be able to make an informed decision.

Indeed, the ability to plan ahead for even a casual trip is key for anyone with accessibility in mind. Lakshmee Lachhman-Persad likes to bring her Bronx-based family, which includes her sister, a wheelchair user, into Manhattan and around the city to visit tourist destinations and have a nice meal. Finding reliable digital information about accessibility is the most difficult part of the trip she says.That informationwas so scarce that she created a blog, Accessible Travel NYC, so she could describe her familys frustrations andtriumphs for her readers.

360-accesss co-founders met at atechnology conference in Pittsburgh after Peterson spotted Long sitting alone in her wheelchair. I just crutched over to her andintroduced myself, Peterson laughs. That was essentially when the app went into development. A planned launch in 2018 had to be scrapped when Abators Chief Information Officer, who had designed the proprietary software for that version of 360-access, passedaway suddenly. Stunned, they nonetheless went back to work, and decided to pull the trigger as the ADA hit its 30th anniversary.

Peterson and Long persevered by staying focused on their goal, and by drawing on their own experience and connectionsalong with being, according to Peterson, 100 percent self-funded. Peterson is theCEO of Abator, an IT engineering systems firmshe foundedalmost four decades ago in Pittsburgh, where it remains; 360-access is being housed under the Abator umbrella, at least for now. Long is a career-long advocate and activist, with a wide and deep network of connections across the U.S., including the American Association of People with Disabilitiesand the Centers for Independent Living, as well as chambers of commerce and local travel and transportation organizations. Shell be leveraging those contacts to build partnerships to hopefully bring in the restaurants and other venues that will populate the site.If we map it, she predicts, they will come.

And if they dont? Peterson doesnt flinch. No risk, no reward, she declares.But its more than that for these personally invested partners.

We want the emotional reward if it kicks off.Our community need this, and I want to help move it forward. In the end, Peterson says, I believe it will work. I dont believe we will fail.

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After 30 Years, Making Accessibility Information Accessible - Forbes

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