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App Aims to Help Wheelchair-Using New Yorkers Navigate City

By Serena Solomon | August 15, 2013 7:26am
 Wheel New York will be a trip-planning application with user generated reviews.
Wheel New York
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LOWER EAST SIDE — Inspired by her wheelchair-using brother, a Lower East Side woman is developing a website and smartphone app to help people with disabilities make the most of New York City.

Jennifer Feinberg, 24, is raising money to develop Wheel New York, a trip-planning app and site that would identify wheelchair-friendly places and transportation routes while enlisting users to rate the accessibility of popular spots and offer real-time tips. 

Both the web and phone platforms have already been designed, and Feinberg is seeking $50,000 in donations through Kickstarter to finish the project, which she hopes will serve thousands of New Yorkers who are mobility-impaired, including the elderly.

East Village Ride-Along
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DNAinfo/Serena Solomon

"When you walk into a restaurant it is not a big fanfare, but if you are in a wheelchair and there are steps and you need three waiters and a hostess to get you in, it creates a bit of a scene,” said Feinberg, describing a frequent experience of her 22-year-old brother Andrew, who has spina bifida.

"People night have good intentions, but it can be potentially embarrassing for people like my brother," she added.

Wheel New York's trip-planning section would allow users to plug in their destination and receive an accessible route.

"You could put 'I want to go from Penn Station to the MoMA then to Central Park and back to Penn Station,' and ideally we would be able to generate accessibility maps for that trip," said Feinberg, who works as a marketing manager in the music industry.

The map would highlight subway stations with elevators as well as the accessibility of institutions like the MoMA. Users could create an itinerary on their desktop computer and then access it through the iPhone or Android app.

Feinberg is developing the app with her Long Island-based family, including her brother, who recently graduated from the State University of New York with a marketing degree.

The app will also include real-time tips, like noting broken elevators and restaurants that say they're accessible but actually aren't.

"Some restaurants need to bring wheelchairs through their kitchens due to an inaccessible main entrance," according to Wheel New York's Kickstarter campaign. "Not exactly the romantic experience you had hoped for on that date."

As of Wednesday, the Kickstarter had raised $9,000 from 155 backers, including East Village resident and former Ms. Wheelchair America, Alexandra McArthur.

"Part of what is difficult about getting around New York is knowing what is and isn't accessible," said McArthur, 25, who has muscular dystrophy, a genetic disease that weakens her muscles.

McArthur recently gave DNAinfo a tour of the East Village, demonstrating the barriers wheelchair users encounter.

She said Wheel New York could help educate New Yorkers on what true accessibility is, which is more than a simple "yes" or "no" on the review website Yelp.

"It will make it less of a challenge to be able to a live life," she said.