DENVER, C.O. — Having a mobility disability can make simple outings, like getting coffee, a little more complicated if businesses don't offer accessibility options. It's something Joe Foster realized while he was volunteering with the United States Paralympic Team.
"About 4 years ago we tried to take a group of athletes out in a small town in Colorado, called Breckenridge. When we got there, there was two steps to get inside even though they had said that 'Oh no, no, no it's totally accessible,'" said Foster. "The elevator was a relic from the 60's and was too small to fit a wheelchair inside."
Foster assumed this was just a small town problem that didn't happen in big cities. He asked the athletes if that was the case.
"They just laughed at me and said 'No, this is every time that we go pretty much go anywhere.'"
This is a situation many people may find themselves in— nearly 40 million Americans live with a mobility disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Shortly after Foster's outing with the Paralympic athletes, he got started on an app to help individuals better navigate public spaces. It's called Roll Mobility, and it allows users to filter the kind of accessibility they're looking for. The app then color codes public places from green to red based on how accessible it is.
Rachel Zoeller is the head of communications for Roll Mobility, and is a wheelchair user. She says having access to this information makes a big difference.
"One of the things I want the entire able-bodied population to know about living a disabled life, is just how energy draining it is," said Zoeller. "I'm met with physical barriers, financial barriers, bureaucratic barriers, and then just the mental fatigue, right, of dealing with all of that."
Those barriers can make trying to go somewhere new for dinner exhausting, Zoeller says.
"When you call ahead you might get information, like Joe mentioned, that's just inaccurate."
Roll Mobility operates based on reviews. Whenever a user leaves one, it expands access to mobility information for everyone. The app is now in use worldwide because of this, and Foster and Zoeller have even seen some businesses update their accessibility in response to poor reviews.
"For example, we just had one of our users, Chris Lane, had used the app and rated a location, and then that location went and changed their bathroom," said Foster.
Foster and Zoeller also encourage able-bodied people to leave reviews. Roll Mobility provides prompts so people know what information is useful.
The app is free to download.