I Wheel Share: Enhancing mobility for people with disabilities with Satnav
I Wheel Share is a start-up based in France. The company develops solutions to promote the social inclusion of people experiencing disabilities.
Created by Audrey and Lucas Sovignet in March 2016, I Wheel Share is recognised as a social enterprise. Today, the start-up finances its activities thanks to crowdfunding and through the participation in calls for innovative and solidarity projects.
According to INSEE (the French National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies), there are 12 million people with disabilities in France, of which three million with a mobility impairment. Only one out of two persons with a disability considers that her/his daily life has improved in the last ten years. Their participation in social and economic life is often restricted by the difficulties related to daily mobility and by the lack of information on places and social and cultural activities appropriate to their needs.
Indeed, there are guides indicating places accessible to the disabled in France. However, these guides do not list inaccessible places and do not offer real-time information about temporary restrictions to circulation. Moreover, the information provided by existing guides is not precise enough. For example, locations classified as accessible with manual wheelchairs prove sometimes non-accessible to users of electric wheelchairs.
Hence, when Lucas lost the use of his legs after a road accident, Audrey decided to engage in the search for a solution that could improve the life of his brother and that of millions of people facing reduced mobility. This not only includes individuals with disabilities, but also the elderly and people with pushchairs.
The satellite solution
In 2015, Audrey, a graphic designer with some training in programming, developed a mobile application designed to facilitate urban mobility for disabled people. The app has since then been improved by two other companies, specialised in Android and IOS systems. Thanks to a partnership with the APF (Association of French Paralysed) and other associations, the app was tested during six months before being launched.
I Wheel Share was conceived to give a voice to persons with disabilities by “geolocating their thoughts and opinions”. The app is available for free. Users just need to create a profile with an email address to access it. The application allows users to identify places difficult to access for people with disabilities, and to geo-locate them using the GPS embedded in their smartphones. Users can report their experiences, be them positive or negative, and share them with the rest of the community. As an example, when the access to a road is made difficult by public works, the app registers the information in real time for other users to see. The information can be saved in written or orally, through the voice recognition system included in the application. This feature makes the app particularly suitable for the visually impaired.
The application allowed for the creation of a mutual assistance network. Since its launch, more than 1,000 people in 10 countries have downloaded the application and 1200 experiences have already been posted.
One of the distinctive advantages of the application, as compared to other available guides, is represented by the “good deals”. Through I Wheel Share, users can for example identify and record places which are adapted to their needs, like a restaurant or a bar whose waiters know sign language, or they can share information about events, such as theatre shows, which are suitable for people with visual or hearing impairment.
I Wheel Share was well welcomed by public institutions. In the future, the application will be complemented with an online portal accessible from computers.
For the app to remain free of charge, I Wheel Share is currently developing push notifications advertising services and products for disabled individuals. These will pop up on the users’ devices when they are close to the advertising stores, restaurants or cultural places. However, the company is seeking for new partnerships and other funding opportunities to expand their range of offered services.
We consider disability as a lever for innovation. The GPS is a fundamental component of I Wheel Share, allowing users to geo-locate and share in real time a lot of information. The application is an example of virtuous use of new technologies to improve the lives of people with reduced mobility”. Audrey Sovignet, I Wheel Share