Mobility Apps and People with Mobility Impairments – Challenges and Prospects

The past years have seen an influx of mobility apps with the aim of increasing and improving people’s personal mobility. More people than ever use their smartphones to find information on how to move from A to B, which means of transport they should use etc.. However, how does this work for people with a mobility impairment? Can mobility apps provide an alternative for people using a wheelchair or a walking frame, or even people with a stroller or loads of luggage?

Many use cases assume that you are a physically fit, tech savvy kind of person without kids and luggage. So as long as you fit into this user group, you are well off. However, ironically, one user group that is especially dependent on services that increase personal mobility too often cannot benefit from the services mobility apps offer.

People with a mobility impairment need more information than usually provided by mobility apps. And because many apps do not provide this additional information, they cannot use them.

Information needed by people with a mobility impairment

One of the most important pieces of information for mobility impaired people is whether a place or a means of transportation is accessible. A mobility app that helps you to find the best means of transportation but does not tell you whether, for example, the suggested metro is accessible and if there is a wheelchair space is not of much help for a person with a mobility impairment.

And even if you know for instance that all metro trains in a city are accessible, the app will most probably not tell you if all elevators in the station are working. Which means you might not actually make it to the platform to which your smart mobility app told you to go.

Furthermore, information on services offered en route or at a location are often not easily found, such as whether there is a wheelchair accessible toilet, mobile ramp etc. available. And once we start talking about navigation apps, we need to think about information regarding the height of curbs, road condition, slopes and much more.

When saying that people with a mobility impairment need more information than is usually provided by mobility apps, one could easily argue that this kind of information is too specific and not really relevant for most people.

Hence, it should not be included in your regular mobility app. However, there is already a huge user group that could benefit from more “disability mainstreaming” when it comes to information regarding accessibility.

Next to the approximately 1.6 million wheelchair users in Germany, there are more than 2 million people using a walking aid with a dramatic rise of about 50 percent since 2009. Now add all the people who have kids and use strollers and/or have loads of luggage. For all of them it is pretty important to know if the elevators in a station work or if there is a free space on a train – be it for strollers, wheelchairs or a walking aid.

People with a mobility impairment – a growing user group

Furthermore, when thinking about mobility in the future, it seems fairly likely that a great deal of the above mentioned information on accessibility etc. will become important to an even larger number of people.

The UN estimates that “In countries with life expectancies over 70 years, individuals spend on average about 8 years, or 11.5 percent of their life span, living with disabilities.” For Berlin, the Senate Administration for Urban Development estimates that in 2030 more than 22 percent of the population will be older than 65 years – many of whom will likely use either a walking aid or a wheelchair.

Considering this demographic change, it makes a great deal of sense to take the needs of mobility impaired people into account when building mobility apps. Moreover, information on the accessibility of means of transport and public places as well as on additional infrastructure such as elevators, wheelchair toilets, and available spaces for personal mobility devices of all kinds is a major benefit for all kinds of people.

In conclusion, when building the mobility apps of the future, the growing user group of people with a mobility impairment should be taken into consideration and their needs should not be dismissed as being too specific.

Share your idea with us: For people with a mobility impairment, what are the most important accessibility features that should be included in future mobility apps?


Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

The Accessible City

Making cities accessible for everyone regardless of their abilities to walk or move, that is Raúl Krauthausen’s goal. For him it is obvious that there is an inequality in how we use cities. Besides raising awareness for the needs of mobility impaired people regarding accessibility in cities, Raúl uses his TEDtalk to make examples how urban planners can take those needs into consideration. He introduces two of his projects: an online map to search, find and mark wheelchair accessible places, and an online platform where people can order affordable mobile ramps to create access to formerly inaccessible places.