One man’s struggle with multiple sclerosis is making a difference for those with disabilities, both on film and in their daily lives.
A step in front of the barber shop, a narrow entryway at the bookstore, a bathroom too small for your wheelchair: these are the issues that those with disabilities face every day. But one man is hoping to change all that.
Jason DaSilva sees an obstacle in his path and not only finds a way around it, but helps others with similar disabilities get around it, too. AXS Map is his brainchild. It’s a way for everyone, able-bodied and disabled alike, to help hold the world accountable by rating locations based on accessibility.
After being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), DaSilva’s ability to walk quickly declined to the point that he needed a scooter to get around. From this newfound vantage point, DaSilva was struck by just how inaccessible our towns and cities still are, despite the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was enacted in 1990—nearly a quarter century ago.
“I have trouble going to stores, finding bathrooms that are accessible, and meeting up with friends,” said DaSilva in the intro video on his website.
Similar to TripAdvisor, AXS Map provides users with a simple star rating scale to grade a business, school, church, government office, or any other destination from a user’s perspective.
The app makes use of Google Maps technology. You input your location, and surrounding establishments populate a list of places you can rate. How user-friendly are they for people in wheelchairs, using walkers or canes, in scooters, or even those pushing baby strollers?
Questions like “Is there a ramp?” or “Is there accessible parking?” or even whether or not a menu is in Braille are all answered at a glance, giving people who depend on the answer confidence that their needs will be met.
“The idea for AXS Map came about in 2007, after I got my first iPhone,” DaSilva told Healthline. “I said, ‘This could be a great way to have people crowdsource wheelchair access at lots of locations.'”
DaSilva has managed to pull together a list of heavy hitters in order to see AXS Map to fruition, including Google, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Fledgling Fund, and Telefilm Canada.
“I had basically gone for two years really not going to places—there was often a step or two I didn’t know about, or I would call a place they wouldn’t know how wheelchair accessible their bathroom was,” DaSilva said. “I thought it could be a Yelp for people with disabilities. Soon after, Google came on board, and then it became big and the floodgates opened and it became a really strong database.”
DaSilva was a documentary filmmaker traveling the world when he was diagnosed with primary progressive MS. Naturally, he decided to make a film about his journey with MS and the evolution of his AXS Map project. It’s poignantly titled When I Walk.
He said his mother is an inspiration to him and early on encouraged him to keep making his film even when he confided to her that it “was tough,” due to his aggressive MS.
“Things are tough in life, get real!” she told him. “We only have one life…and we don’t know how long we have to live—we could be dead tomorrow,” was her way of telling him to seize the moment.
“I have been making films for years, so I know that film can affect change,” said DaSilva, “but this film is really powerful. After a screening, people will say they have a question, and then they’ll start bawling. We have a chance to get out there and affect social change if people keep spreading the word. It’s not just about MS, it’s about accessibility and fighting challenges we all face and finding triumphs along the way.”
This week, When I Walk is appearing on movie screens in New York and Los Angeles, with a host of other cities in between. To find an event near you, check the screening schedule or request a screening in your hometown.
More importantly, sign up for an account on AXS Map and start rating your town.
“I imagine that it is self-generating,” said DaSilva, when asked about his vision for the future of AXS Map. “I imagine being able to track what cities and neighborhoods are accessible based on AXS Map—that in New York, for instance, you could find out if the East Village or the Upper West Side has better access. It could be very powerful, something that policy makers and urban planners take into account when they are making decisions.”
The ultimate goal of his film and AXS Map is to help society embrace accessibility. That way, when films like When I Walk are shown around the country, folks in wheelchairs won’t have to wonder if they can get into the building to see it. They can check AXS Map and know for sure.