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Accessibility in an App

ages 3-17 yrs. 376 books 72 children 36 homes

Unlock Philly aims to improve traveling and living in the city for people with mobility issues by samantha drake


2014 a g eS 8 m on . - 1 8 y r s . 1,125 books 250 children 100 homes


supporters. For the last two years of the program, Brooker went door to door to collect paper sign-up forms. Recently, she single-handedly registered 98 children. She’s seen the effects of Words on Wheels through her daycare students. “As soon as I mention it, the kids are excited and ready to get more books,” she says. “They really remember the program and want to sign up.” Words on Wheels is also convenient for parents who don’t always have the time or resources to take their children to libraries. It’s been a great help to Carmen Sharpe, a single mother of four. “My 8-year-old loves the books,” Sharpe says. “She’s been able to catch up on her reading during the summer and is now two levels up from where she’s supposed to be as a fourth-grader.” Tree House Books and its community are not accomplishing their goals alone. The deliveries were facilitated by partnering organizations Gearing Up, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and Wash Cycle Laundry. Words on Wheels has brought all these organizations together, each contributing their own approach towards sustainability. “Working here for five years has taught me that there is nothing more sustainable than making sure books are getting into the hands of children,” Popp says. “To sustain the city, we need to grow readers.”

Ather Sharif, who moved to Philadelphia last year for treatment for a spinal cord injury, knows how important it is for people with mobility issues to plan when using public transportation. Though he was impressed with the accessibility of SEPTA's subways and buses, he saw how quickly regular maintenance issues—a broken elevator at a subway station or construction blocking a pathway—could derail travel plans. James Tyack, a senior software engineer and frequent SEPTA rider, recognized a need. He created a mobile app called Unlock Philly to help people with mobility issues find wheelchair-accessible SEPTA stations; now with input from the community, it’s poised to become a wide-ranging resource for people with disabilities who live and travel in Philadelphia. Unlock Philly can make an impact on people’s lives on a day-to-day basis while improving the city’s services, says Sharif, a software developer who is helping Tyack develop Unlock Philly’s capabilities. Powered by data from SEPTA and crowdsourced information, Unlock Philly provides an interactive map of SEPTA subway and high-speed line stops that are wheelchair-accessible, as well as up-to-date Tweeted information about elevator outages and construction projects that could impede access. Plans are also underway to gather and share accessibility information on businesses and other venues to help make more of what the city has to offer available to everyone. Tyack began building the app in late 2013 at the

Apps for Philly Transit hackathon. Tyack, 41, explains that being on public transportation for two hours every day made him very aware of what’s working and what isn’t. He says he created Unlock Philly to help people with mobility issues navigate the city. “If they can’t use the elevator, they can’t get to work,” Tyack says. “It’s just not fair.” On June 1, Unlock Philly took the top prize at the Hack4Access hackathon sponsored by Philly and the Philadelphia Corporation on Aging. Tyack received $1,000 from Philadelphia Link, an aging and disability resource, to continue developing the app. The Unlock Philly team includes six volunteers, as well as individuals from the aging and disability communities who’ve given input about their needs, says Tyack. Elizabeth Wilkerson is one of those individuals. She’s working with Tyack to crowdsource accessibility information on businesses, restaurants and other venues. “One great thing about Philly is people like working together,” says Wilkerson, a city resident who uses a motorized scooter and travels with a portable ramp in her car. “It’s not just a disability issue.” Sharif agrees, and hopes his contribution to Unlock Philly will take community involvement to the next level. “This project has so much potential,” Sharif says. “There’s nothing like it out there.” For more information on Unlock Philly, visit .

To donate books for Words on Wheels, visit . bottom il lustration by m i gu e l co

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Grid Magazine September 2014 [#065]  

Delivering the Goods: Philly Foodworks builds community and breaks the mold with their innovative CSA model

Grid Magazine September 2014 [#065]  

Delivering the Goods: Philly Foodworks builds community and breaks the mold with their innovative CSA model