App launched in Calgary to help pedestrians find accessible, barrier-free routes downtown

Click to play video: 'App launched to help pedestrians find accessible, barrier-free routes downtown Calgary'
App launched to help pedestrians find accessible, barrier-free routes downtown Calgary
Two Calgarians have launched a new app aimed at helping people find accessible routes around the city's downtown core. As Adam MacVicar reports, the idea was spurred by the challenges differently-abled people face as they navigate their daily lives. – Sep 20, 2023

Navigating the downtown core can be challenging, especially for people with mobility differences. Helping those people find a barrier-free path is the goal behind a new Calgary-based app.

Pedesting,’ which launched Wednesday, is designed to help pedestrians find the easiest and most accessible routes throughout the city.

The app’s cofounder, Nabeel Ramji, has cerebral palsy and uses a motorized wheelchair, which can require a lot of pre-planning to get around.

“As someone with a disability, I get very anxious when I go out because of the uncertainty around the barriers that I might face,” Ramji told Global News.

“Typically I’ll go somewhere the day before and even call the business owner to see if it’s accessible or not.”

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That anxiety spurred a conversation between Ramji and his colleague Erin Shilliday, an architect and the chief creative officer for Pedesting.

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Shilliday said he and Ramji began diving deeper into disability and accessibility, which led him to do assessments on buildings aimed at improving accessibility. However, those assessments didn’t strike the change they were hoping to make.

“Nabeel and I realized, technology is an amazing tool,” Shilliday said. “Since we can’t build a ramp, or make every building accessible, perhaps we can use technology to find out how we can get around those barriers and end up at our destination.”

The duo teamed up with experts in navigation and geographic information services to begin development of Pedesting, which uses both building blueprints and crowd-sourced information from users.

The app allows users to plan their route, identify barriers like stairs, and find accessibility aids like ramps, power door openers, accessible washrooms and elevators.

The Pedesting app’s interface guiding an accessible route through Calgary’s Central Library. Courtesy: Pedesting

“You can get that information ahead of time so you can pre-plan your route from anywhere you start your journey,” Ramji said.

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The app currently features the floorplans and routes through three zones in the downtown core: Arts Commons, Brookfield Place and the Central Library.

“They did some of their development with some of our patrons here at the Central Library,” Mary Graham, the library’s assistant manager of service delivery told Global News. “We were really excited to do that because of our commitment to accessibility.”

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According to Shilliday, the plan is to expand the app to more zones in the downtown core and around the city, including office towers, the Plus 15 network, and post-secondary institutions.

The duo is also hoping for help from the general public to add public spaces to the app that may not be included in blueprints.

“Maybe it’s a special place that they like to go to in their neighbourhood that they know is accessible and they know it’s a great pedestrian environment,” Shilliday said. “That’s fantastic stuff for us.”

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Pedesting also provides data to business owners, to help them understand how to become more accessible without major changes to their building’s infrastructure.

Ramji said he hopes the app helps people with that anxiety, instead replacing it with confidence to navigate public spaces.

“Having a tool like this can really help understand the space,” he said.

Pedesting is available for download on Google Play and the Apple Store.

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