For people with disabilities—a group making up an estimated 26% of the U.S. adult population—travel planning in great detail is essential. Trouble is, great details are hard to come by.
If you have specific access needs because you use a wheelchair, for example, you're probably accustomed to confirming that an out-of-town hotel, restaurant, park, or sports stadium has the right accessible amenities before you book a stay, meal, tour, or concert. But the info you'll get online or even by calling ahead may be insufficient—the business might neglect to mention the only ramp is far from the front entrance, say—or missing altogether.
A new mobile app called Friendly Like Me is designed to make those remote reconnaissance missions simpler, supplying users with detailed listings that give the lowdown on a given place's amenities for people with disabilities as well as people of size.
Available to use via download on Apple or Android devices or at the Friendly Like Me website, the platform relies on crowdsourced reviews from other users who report from personal experience whether the business or attraction has accessible restrooms, roomy seating options, beach-friendly mobility equipment, and so on.
Based on reviews, each spot is given a "Friendliness" score for overall accessibility. Fill out a profile with your specific needs and the app will calculate each place's "Like Me" rating to show whether the amenities you've selected are present, according to reviewers.
(Friendly Like Me accessibility app | Credit: Friendly Like Me)
"Disability is very individual," Friendly Like Me cofounder Elysia Everett Burns explained in an email. "With this in mind, we designed Friendly Like Me to be an ultra-personalized search experience focusing on the individual set of accommodations required by a person, family, or group."
A degree of objectivity is built into the review form in order to generate useful data, according to Everett Burns. "While comments and opinions can be added," she said, "we are scoring based on questions like: Is there an accessible bathroom, yes or no? Booth tables that move, yes or no?"
As with any crowdsourced resource, success will depend on the size of the crowd and the number of reviews. At the moment, Friendly Like Me has listings for about 3,000 sites, according to Everett Burns, and is currently limited to U.S. destinations, though there are plans to expand to Canada, the U.K., and Australia in the coming months.
Everett Burns tells us that in addition to beaches, museums, bars, resorts, and other places across the U.S., Friendly Like Me has reviews of "all of the MLB, NHL, NBA, and NFL stadiums and arenas," and the national parks are expected to be completed by summer.
The app currently limits accessibility info to amenities and services relating to mobility and size, but details having to do with sight, hearing, and autism are on the horizon, Everett Burns tells us.
Friendly Like Me is not the first online travel resource devised for people with disabilities—others include WheelchairTravel.org and the promising new Waze-like Ahoi app currently available only in Boston—but a reliable, large-in-scope planning tool would be a welcome addition.
Friendly Like Me is free to use. For more information or to download the app, go to FriendlyLikeMe.com.