Open Data and Accessibility

The offering of Open Data is one big trend in public administration and science. In this article I want to show, how open data can be used to provide a better accessibility.

In General, there are two ways we can use data for accessibility. We can use data, which have on the first glance nothing to do with accessibility like geographical data, which for example administrations uses for city planning. On the other hand we have data, which are used for accessibility, but are not open or free for public use or they aren’t used well now.

Using existing data

There already exists a massive amount of data. Information’s on broken lifts for example can be transmitted in real time to navigation apps or can be provided in other ways to people who need them: Mothers with small children, older people or wheel chair users. They also can be brought to people without web access, for example they can be read from an artificial voice on telephone or be shown on an interactive billboard. People have the opportunity to take another way, when they have such information’s.

The town and the public transport service have this information already and only have to offer it to the users. Another way is to collect this information through Crowdsourcing. The best way seems to be a combination to gain the best possible and actual data.

A similar approach would be interesting for construction sites. They are difficult for blind, visually impaired and other people with disabilities. The service Fix my Street is already used by citizens to give information about broken streets and such issues to the administration. The same service can be used to inform people with disability. City administrations of course have this information and they only must provide them in an accessible way.

Old data for new purposes

For the second approach we know many successful models. Wheelmap is a mix of both models; it uses the OpenStreetMap project and collects data through Crowdsourcing. The collected data is free to use in other contexts.

Firefox collects data for telemetry. The browser also can analyze whether the user has assisting technology like screen readers. The browser addon WebVisum can be used to provide better accessibility for web sites. You can for example enhance images with alt text or add a caption for an unnamed button. The Addon allows it to share these improvements with other people who use WebVisum. In my opinion, this data can be also called open data. unfortunately this feature hasn’t ever been used widely.

Such a procedure would also be interesting for programs or apps, which are often not accessible, too. I know that there are security issues, if you allow external process such impacts into the system, but I think, we can find a solution to provide more accessibility without deep security issues.


The usage of open data offers a high potential to improve the accessibility for a wide range of people. The creativity has no borders, if you start to think about it.

We have to force administration and science to open their mind to open their data. In fact, in most cases the public finance the development of this data. It is a common good also it is not treated like that.

The data have to be provided in a usable format like XML or JSON to be useful for our purposes. It has to be provided through open interfaces (APIs).

The same have to be said about the organizations of people with disabilities. The German organization of the blind, the DBSV has built a database of accessible tourist attractions. It is a closed and very small and mostly unknown database. A connection to OpenStreetMap would increase the count of data and the prominence dramatically. In fact, many people with other disabilities or without disabilities could profit from this data. And there is the case of people with multiple disabilities, for example visually impaired in wheel chairs, which are not considered in such a kind of database. Should say puzzle their information through different databases like Wheelmap and DBSV?

The shortly died economist Elionore Ostrom did research on the value of common goods, open data would fall into her definition. Her result was that the contribution of these goods brings greater benefit to all, whereas the privatization only brings profits for a very small amount of enterprises and individuals.

Further Reading

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