This past week I had the opportunity to work with Acorda and Google for a really great cause. Every year Google does a week of service, and their employees choose from a list of different places to volunteer. AXS Map is a program started by Jason and Alice DiSilva to help people with disabilities – and was partially engineered by Google!

Today, 1 in 6  people have a disability. The reality is that not many restaurants, churches, and stores are wheelchair accessible. You don’t really think about it until you’re walking up the steps to your favorite restaurant. That was the beauty of this project, we were able to map out the streets of Manhattan and get an idea of what it’s like to be in a wheelchair, reliant on a walker, or hearing impaired.

We mapped lower Manhattan Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this week. 
Grano Trattoria got a 5 in our books. 
You’d be shocked how many businesses boast about their wheelchair accessible bathroom – but their front door has three steps and no ramp. What’s the point of a great bathroom, if a wheelchair can’t get in the door? The app asks all the questions – how accessible is the entrance? The bathroom? Do they have an alternate entrance that’s accessible? Is it quiet? Spacious? What about a ramp? Check out the video here
On Tuesday, we ventured into The Meatball Shop in Chelsea… and they brought us down to their basement to show us their ramp! You can never truly understand what someone in a wheelchair goes through, but this gave us a glimpse into the non-wheelchair friendly community that surrounds us. 
lookin’ a little crazy in the company photo – oops.

Google does a week of service projects every year, and they were awesome enough to be our home base for the week. The buses were loaded up every morning at Acorda and brought buses of volunteers to hit the streets. Jason and Alice spoke each morning, giving a little history and an introduction of how to use the app. It’s integrated with Google Maps so it’s a pretty smooth process, you search your area, click a pin, and rate! Areas that have already been rated show up green, yellow, or red depending on how accessible they are. 
I met Sasha, a Google engineer on Wednesday and he took to the streets with us – in his wheelchair. 
“The Google engineer, Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, a fresh-faced father of two in hipster horn-rim glasses, has a computer-science Ph.D. from Columbia. On July 29, 2009, he went for a walk near 63rd Street, and a fungus-laden branch from an oak tree fell 37 feet. Mr. Blair-Goldensohn, then 33, suffered traumatic brain injuries, paralysis and damage to his lungs and spinal cord, according to his family’s suit.”
Glaberson, William. “Neglected, Rotting Trees Turn Deadly.” New York Times 13 May 2012, n. pag. Web. 17 Jun. 2013. .

Can you even imagine? Taking a walk in the park and twenty minutes later your life is changed forever. Sasha gave us an idea of how he gets around in the city. He clued us on things we didn’t even think about. If a door is too heavy, he can’t open it and scoot in the door. If I encounter a heavy door, I just wedge my body in the door and push my way through. A tiny bathroom makes me feel a little claustrophobic, but I can manage. These tiny bathrooms can’t accomodate a wheelchair, much less an extra person if assistance is needed. These things that we take for granted – that we don’t think twice about – are roadblocks in everyday life for those with a disability.

Between being at Acorda, going to the Christopher Reeve benefit, meeting Sasha, and working with Jason DiSilva for AXS Mapping – there is so much going on in the world of spinal cord injury. Whether it’s multiple sclerosis, a spinal cord injury, or another health problem that limits the body: there are really incredible people doing big things to bring awareness and make our world more accessible. 
The (free!) app is available in App Store and on Google Play. Download it, rate your local places, and help our communities become more accessible, aware, and alive. Watch the videos on YouTube. 
(almost) all the photos in this post are John Blaise‘s talented work. 
He was so incredible to work alongside with and help out.  
Blaise, John. AXS Mapping. 2013. Photograph. n.p. Web. 17 Jun 2013.

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