Unlock Philly App Helps People with Disabilities Navigate the Big City


When visiting major cities, mobility in public space is often an issue for people with disabilities. Are there working elevators or lifts in the subways and buses? Especially in East Coast cities, which often feature businesses located in very old buildings, things like steps into a favorite restaurant, narrow and uneven sidewalks, and other impediments can ruin a work trip or vacation.

James Tyack is a software engineering leader at LexisNexis, and a volunteer civic coder at Code for Philly, a non-profit organization “dedicated to re-imagining City government through civic apps.”

“I spend hours and hours on the Philadelphia Subway system, and I noticed some of the broken elevators around me as I was going up and down the escalators,” Tyack explains. “These problems can make people’s jobs more difficult. And I thought ‘what can I do about this?’ This doesn’t affect me directly, but I know it affects other people, and I care about that.”

Broken elevators in Philadelphia public transportation make travel for people with disabilities, and anyone else facing mobility issues (including those with temporary disabilities, parents with strollers, and even people with luggage) extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Seeking to help people navigate his city, Tyack created the Unlock Philly app for smartphones and tablets. “I came up with this idea to start tracking elevator outages, so I got the data for that, and started mapping it,” he says. Unlock Philly links people with transit and venue options, navigable routes, and other pertinent information in order to, as their mission statement says, “Make Philadelphia a more accessible city that welcome and embraces people with disabilities.”

This innovative app utilizes a variety of information to keep itself up to date. Using open data sets and social media, Unlock Philly leads users to accessible locations and services. “When we spot problems and patterns we talk and tweet about them to raise visibility and bring about change,” the website states. “We also highlight businesses and organizations that go out of their way to provide fantastic, accessible service.”

Tyack works for Reed Elsevier (RELX), parent company of Elsevier, and is featured in RELX Webinar on October 15, where he answered questions and discussed the project as a whole. To access the Webinar, please email Lisa Hayes, Senior Communications Lead, at Lisa.Hayes@RELX.com.

Share Button