S O F T W A R E Open Access
Wheelmap: the wheelchair accessibility
, Jonas Deister
and Holger Dieterich
Crowdsourcing (geo-) information and participatory GIS are among the current hot topics in research and industry.
Various projects are implementing participatory sensing concepts within their workflow in order to benefit from the
power of volunteers, and improve their product quality and efficiency. Wheelmap is a crowdsourcing platform
where volunteers contribute information about wheelchair-accessible places. This article presents information
about the technical framework of Wheelmap, and information on how it could be used in projects dealing
with accessibility and/or multimodal transportation.
Keywords: Wheelmap, OpenStreetMap, Open data, Crowdsourcing, VGI, Accessibility
Wheelmap - a map for wheelchair-accessible places is an
initiative of the Sozialhelden, a grassroots organisation
from Berlin, Germany. On Wheelmap
everyone from all
over the world can find and add places and rate them by
using a traffic light system. The map, which is available
since 2010, shall help wheelchair users and people with
mobility impairments to plan their day more effectively.
Currently, more than 800,000 cafés, libraries, swimming
pools, and many more public places have been captured.
While the majority of the places which have been added
so far are located in Germany, the mapping platform
works globally, as it is based on OpenStreetMap (OSM).
The Wheelmap interface is available in Arabic, Danish,
German, Greek, English, Spanish, French, Icelandic,
Italian, Japanese, Swedish, Turkish, Korean, and Polish.
Wheelchairs or purpose-built cars on the one hand,
elevators and ramps on the other allow people with
mobility impairments to plan their day independently
to a great extent. But frequently, the last meters de-
cide whether the trip to the cinema, beer garden or
supermarket was worth the effort. Just one single step
at the entrance can be an insurmountable obstacle,
and this is where Wheelmap comes into play. Users
provide information for other users on how accessible
a destination is. Thereby, the map contributes to an
active and diversified lifestyle for wheelchair users.
People with rollators or buggies benefit from this tool
as well. Furthermore, the aim of Wheelmap is to
make owners of wheelchair-inaccessible public places
aware of the problem. They should be encouraged to
reflect on and improve the accessibility of their
As mentioned earlier, Wheelmap is based on Open-
StreetMap, an open, editable map of the digital open
source map of the world. Everyone can search for
places and –provided they have been tagged –get in-
formation about how easily accessible the places are.
Those who sign up as a user are able to add and rate
new places. An easy traffic light system marks the
wheelchair accessibility of a place: Green signifies an
unrestricted access –e.g. because there are no steps or
there is a permanent ramp, an elevator or other tools
which allow the entrance. Places which are orange-
colored have no toilets but might have a foldable ramp
for example. Places which are red-colored are not ac-
cessible for wheelchair users. In general, the more
people join Wheelmap and add places the more precise
and informative the map gets.
Sozialhelden is an incorporated, not for profit soci-
ety, located in Berlin, Germany. In addition to a small
paid staff, it comprises a network of volunteers en-
gaging in various activities regarding social justice. It
* Correspondence: email@example.com
GIScience research group, Institute of Geography, Heidelberg University,
Full list of author information is available at the end of the article
Open Geospatial Data,
Software and Standards
© The Author(s). 2017 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0
International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and
reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to
the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
Mobasheri et al. Open Geospatial Data, Software and Standards (2017) 2:27
is financed by taking part in contests, by receiving
donations from public and private sponsors, and by
supporting Wheelmap-related activities of social
The main objective is to gather information about the
accessibility of public places (points of interest, POI).
Everyone is invited to participate and provide their own
tagging of places on an OSM-based map at the Wheel-
In the past decade, OpenStreetMap in particular, and
Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) in general,
have gained special attention in various research
projects. Such free and open datasets have been used in
several application domains including routing and navi-
gation [1–4], transportation studies [5, 6], urban and
environmental challenges [7, 8], as well as disaster man-
So far, several efforts have been done regarding
research studies specifically addressing accessibility
issues using crowdsourced datasets. This is while
there are still research gaps in developing an efficient
framework for accessible transportation. For instance,
in one of the early works, Prandi et al.,  explored
the potentials of the crowdsourcing communities in
improving data access and services in the field of dis-
able pedestrian mobility. Similar works have been
followed by [11–19]. Among those, mPASS  pre-
sents a valuable mobile pervasive accessibility social
sensing framework. mPASS collects data about urban
and building accessibility to provide personalized
paths. Their framework is similar to Wheelmap, be-
sides the fact that Wheelmap only focuses on access-
ible points of interests (building, toilets, etc.), while
mPASS also considers accessible routes. In another
study, Salomoni et, al.  present the results of field
trials with mobile applications that employing differ-
ent gamification mechanisms. The authors conclude
that some of the apps are able to drive users to pro-
vide more contributions. Further discussions on their
study can be found at .
A main concern regarding using crowdsourced data-
sets such as OpenStreetMap is the level of quality
they carry . Several methods exists in assessing
VGI data quality . Among the studies carried out
on using VGI data for urban accessibility, some of
them evaluate, argue and enrich the fitness for
purpose of this data source [22–24]. For instance,
Mobasheri et, al.  evaluates the completeness of
sidewalk information (as well as other relevant data
for accessibility) in OpenStreetMap database and
discusses the lack of data completeness with applying
extrinsic and intrinsic data analysis. Wheelmap,
among other possibilities, can be used by volunteers
to enrich accessibility information in OpenStreetMap.
Wheelmap has had a great influence in research pro-
jects. Several studies have used or cited Wheelmap as
one of the main crowdsourcing platforms in the ac-
cessibility domain [18, 19, 25–31]. Hence, this study
aims to introduce this platform for a better under-
standing and usage in future studies.
Technically, Wheelmap currently comprises two
major applications (Fig. 1). One is the publicly avail-
able platform for collaborative tagging, and the other
is a platform for developers so that they can test new
functionality and quality-check new data sources (e.g.
sponsored data) before applying it to the live server.
Wheelmap provides a RESTful API to access and
maintain the Wheelmap relevant data within OSM.
The REST requests are to be authorized by an api_-
key, which can be obtained for a Wheelmap account.
Such an account is based on a valid OSM account.
Registration for Wheelmap is offered at Wheelmap’s
Resources at GitHub
Public applications and components of Wheelmap are
hosted as open source at GitHub.
Besides the standard web interface, the main applica-
tions for the mobile collaborative crowd-sourcing process
are (Fig. 2):
Wheelmap-android –An android app for
Wheelmap, with full editing and search capabilities,
direction pointers as well as a tablet version.
Wheelmap-iPhone –An iOS version of Wheelmap
Recently added functionality includes helpful services
Users can add images to a place. Images can be added
from either the camera or from the photo album.
The “Get engaged”function shows unmarked places
Users can share the link to any place on Wheelmap.org
via Facebook, Twitter, email and SMS.
Users can ask their network and friends via
Facebook, Twitter and email if they know the
wheelchair accessibility of an unmarked place and
can tag it accordingly.
The “Route”function shows users a route from
their current position to a certain place on
Wheelmap.org. In the list view, a user can see
Mobasheri et al. Open Geospatial Data, Software and Standards (2017) 2:27 Page 2 of 7
how far away a place is from the current position
of the user.
Wheelmap, as well as OSM, is a Ruby on Rails
plication. Wheelmap therefore has created a ruby
client, named Rosemary, to easily access the
current OpenStreetMap API. Furthermore, Maki
point of interest icon set made especially for use with
MapBox maps. Each icon is designed 3 times for 12,
18, and 24 pixels wide/tall. Style files
10.1+ are available, including both Desktop and
Server versions, and standard and high-resolution
versions of the PNG renders.
The RESTful API
The publicly documented RESTful API of Wheelmap
is the most appropriate component to integrate
Wheelmap data and facilities into new or foreign ap-
plications (Table 1).
Development and testing of applications is done
against a sandbox branch of OSM, which is accessed
by the RESTful Wheelmap API at http://staging.wheel-
map.org/api/. Requests have to be authenticated and
Fig. 2 Android app for tablet (left), iPhone app (right)
Fig. 1 The two Wheelmap applications with the Sandbox Developers’Playground (left), and the live operational platform (right)
Mobasheri et al. Open Geospatial Data, Software and Standards (2017) 2:27 Page 3 of 7
thus authorized by a valid api_key. Changes made by
the staging API at least appear in the recommended
OSM sandbox for editing, which is accessible at
http://api06.dev.openstreetmap.org/api. The effects of
test runs appear at this site in the same way as they
will appear in production at live OSM.
Results and discussion
The tagging process
crowdsourced tagging platforms [31–34]. When view-
ing a map, users will be shown all available POIs from
a set of 12 categories (Fig. 3). Users may deselect
those that they are not interested in and may contrib-
ute their own information by clicking on one of the
icons. Clicking on a gray icon, i.e. one that has not yet
received an accessibility value, results in a pop-up
window where they can immediately choose one of
the three presented options resulting in a subsequent
green, orange or red colouring of the icon. Wheelmap
users may only provide a new accessibility tag (colour-
ing) without any constraints (e.g. no registration
required) only when providing further information
(via the “Details”button) Fig. 4a and c. This free
process of tagging and re-tagging is proof of the high
trust of the providers in the responsibility of the
Wheelmap user community and would ease the
process of data entry.
Table 1 Overview of the resources of the RESTful API
API Docs The documentation pages itself
Resources GET the base API URI - information about sub-resources.
Assets GET the assets collection.
Categories GET the categories collection.
Locales GET a collection of all available locales.
Nodes GET the nodes collection.
- Filter nodes by a search term.
- Filter nodes by a bounding box,
- Filter nodes by a wheelchair status
POST Create a new node.
PUT Update an existing node.
Update the wheelchair status of an existing node.
NodesTypes GET the node type collection.
This resource can also be nested within a category.
To just return the node types associated with the
Users POST Authenticate a given user with email &
password and return the user’s API key.
POST Declare that an authenticated user has wilfully
accepted wheelmap.org‘s terms of usage and privacy
Photos GET a collection of photos of a user or a node.
POST Upload a new Photo for the given node.
Fig. 3 A map showing POIs in four different colours
Mobasheri et al. Open Geospatial Data, Software and Standards (2017) 2:27 Page 4 of 7
Clicking on an already tagged non-gray icon returns
a pop-up window as shown in Fig. 4 (c). This window
shows the existing value for the tag, but allows the
user to change it. This ease of changing tags will pos-
sibly have repercussions in later debates in the project
about possible means of securing data quality and in-
tegrity. Interesting in this respect is also the button
in the lower right corner of pictures (a) and (c) in
Fig. 4. This is used in order to explicitly object to the
existent assessment of a place, and to suggest another
one. Geographical areas or particular users with ex-
ceptionally high rates of changes or change requests
should give rise to major concerns and possibly ac-
tions to be taken from the provider’sside.
Clicking on the “Details”button in the windows (a)
and (c) in Figure triggers a window as depicted in
Fig. 5. The photos of the tagged barbershop demon-
strates why the shop is only “partially”accessible, e.g.
because one has to take a small step in the entry pas-
sage (“there is a comment in red font by another user
that the place is *not* accessible”). The right column
of this window shows the location of the place on a
map, its address, and a list of nearby alternative
This article presents the framework and functional-
ities of Wheelmap –one of the promising existing
platforms for the mobility impaired. Since its first re-
lease, Wheelmap has gained great interest and atten-
tion by the accessibility communities. Nowadays,
Wheelmap has become the world’smostextensive
database on wheelchair accessible places; a database
with more than 800,000 points of interest which have
been rated by an active community gathered around
the project. The Wheelmap project is one of several
Fig. 4 aTagging a new point (POI). bSelectable POI categories. cFurther describe an already tagged point
Mobasheri et al. Open Geospatial Data, Software and Standards (2017) 2:27 Page 5 of 7
projects being run by a team at the non-profit organ-
isation Sozialhelden. In order to ensure that this am-
bitious idea could grow into a successful project,
Wheelmap’s activity was designed for scalability from
the very beginning. The Wheelmap team has won
numerous national and international prizes. Among
those are the Deutscher Bürgerpreis 2010 and World
Summit Award Mobile 2012 by United Nations. It
also received the Vodafone Accessibility Award 2011
from Neelie Kroes, formerly European Commissioner
for Digital Agenda.
The authors would like to thank all the team members in Sozialhelden as
well as project partners in European FP7 project CAP4Access, who have in
any way supported and contributed to the Wheelmap project. We are also
thankful to all the volunteers who use the service and provide accessibility
information. We acknowledge OpenStreetMap project and its volunteers
whom have provided the means and basic infrastructure for development of
Wheelmap. We acknowledge the financial support of the Deutsche
Forschungsgemeinschaft and Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg within
the funding programme Open Access Publishing.
Authors have received funding from the European Community’s Seventh
Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013) under grant agreement No. 612096
Availability of data and materials
All applications and components of Wheelmap are hosted as open source at
This includes Wheelmap-android,
RESTful API of Wheelmap.
AM has written the article. JD and HD have proofread and provided comments
that improved the article. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Fig. 5 Wheelmap tag info for a barbershop (category “partially accessible”), after selecting “Details”button in the menu of Fig. 4a
Mobasheri et al. Open Geospatial Data, Software and Standards (2017) 2:27 Page 6 of 7
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in
published maps and institutional affiliations.
GIScience research group, Institute of Geography, Heidelberg University,
Sozialhelden, Berlin, Germany.
Received: 18 October 2017 Accepted: 8 November 2017
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