"Accessibility for Inclusion" with National Federation of the Disabled - Nepal
Part-time Consultant | Sep 2018
National Federation of the Disabled Nepal (NFDN) is a legally registered non-governmental organization (NGO) under the institutional enrollment act of Nepal. It is the national umbrella body of persons with disabilities that represents more than three hundred member organizations working for promoting the rights of disabled people throughout the country.
A random phone call to NFDN during an Assistive Technology hackathon led me to be a part-time consultant for the project “Accessibility for Inclusion”. The goal of this project was to input the wheelchair accessibility information of 1200 places in the Kathmandu valley on OpenStreetMap (OSM). As a part of this project, I worked together with an architect to understand the accessibility criteria of a building, prepared an accessibility guideline, contributed in a data collection app, trained the data collection volunteers, and uploaded the data on OSM.
Tackling The Big Problem of Accessibility in Nepal
The geography of Nepal full of mountains and slopes creates barrier for people with mobility problems. On top of that, failure to build inclusive infrastructure and facilities has limited access for people with mobility problems to access many services and facilities, sometimes even essential ones like education, health, etc. Even in Kathmandu, the capital of the country, most facilities create barriers for people with mobility issues with uneven paved roads, lack of wheelchair ramps, lack of wheelchair friendly washrooms, etc.
While we have a long way to go for achieving true inclusion and accessibility, immediate efforts are needed. In an attempt to do so, NFDN launched a project “Accessibility for Inclusion” that carried out accessibility audit of about 100 public places in Kathmandu valley at major government offices, INGOs, retail banks, and hospitals. Unfortunately, the outcome of the project was hindered for achieving fruition due to pressure for stopping the publishing of audit report by NFDN. That is why a crowd-sourced open source alternative was adopted as a way to salvage the project by leveraging OpenStreetMap.
Underlying Accessibility Guidelines
My work as a part-time consultant in the project started with understanding the underlying accessibility guidelines to be followed while characterizing the accessibility status of the building components as accessible, partially accessible, or inaccessible for wheelchair.
I worked together with the consulting architect of the project to prepare an accessibility guideline for the participating data collection volunteers on the accessibility of entrance, elevator, ramp, reception/help desk, toilet, parking, and signage of the building. The status of these individual components were combined to categorize a certain public place as wheelchair accessible, partially accessible, or inaccessible.
NFDN Sleuth - Data Collection App
The most difficult part for crowdsourcing the accessibility information of the public places was training the volunteers to enter the data to OpenStreetMap. The volunteers who had different abilities (with mobility, visual, and cognitive impairments) were unable to navigate through OSM.
In order to ease the data collection process, a separate easy-to-use mobile application ‘NFDN Sleuth’ was created using IONIC framework where special attention was made to make the interface extremely basic and easy-to-use. Also, we had to make sure that the application was accessible for our visually impaired volunteers.
The collected data from the application was later uploaded to OpenStreetMap and wheelmap.org later.
As the end of the project ‘Accessibility for Inclusion’, the wheelchair accessibility data of more than 1200 places in three districts – Kathmandu, Lalitpur, and Bhaktapur were added on OSM and wheelmap.org. The public places included in the project were hospitals, banks, malls, educational institutions, etc.
This data can, at present, be accessed via wheelmap.org which can be utilized by people with mobility impairments to look up the accessibility information on public places in their vicinity.