The Nippon Foundation is developing and promoting the barrier-free map application Bmaps, with the aim of creating a society in which everyone can freely move about with peace of mind. The trial version of Bmaps for iOS was released in April 2016, and the Android and PC versions were added in June, with the official release planned for October. Our goal is for the app to have information registered for one million facilities by the time of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, and to be used by people around the world.
A Map Application that Breaks Down Barriers
The Bmaps app being released by The Nippon Foundation makes it possible for persons with disabilities, older persons, people using baby strollers, and anyone else to access the information they need easily, before heading out to a location.
The Nippon Foundation has been committed to enhancing information accessibility for persons with disabilities for many years, and was spurred by Tokyo’s winning bid for the 2020 Paralympics to move ahead with the development of a barrier-free map application, an idea that was already being considered. The planning and development of Bmaps was outsourced to Mirairo Inc., a company with universal-design expertise, and the initial version of the app was released on April 8, 2016.
At the initial release stage, Bmaps is available in English and Japanese, but plans call for more language options to be added. At the press conference for the release, Shuichi Ohno, Executive Director of The Nippon Foundation, talked about the ambitions for the new app:
“Bmaps is an app that offers convenience not only to persons with disabilities but to everyone. Our aim is for Bmaps to be a made-in-Japan global standard that becomes synonymous with barrier-free information.”
The app provides information on public facilities, shops, and restaurants covering 19 features including the number of steps at the entrance, the availability of toilets for wheelchair users or persons with ostomies, policies on guide dogs, acceptance of credit cards and e-money, access to electrical outlets, and Wi-Fi availability. Users can also post photos and reviews.
Toshiya Kakiuchi, president and founder of Mirairo Inc., discussed the development of Bmaps from his own perspective:
“Broadly speaking, there are three main barriers in society: the environment barrier, the awareness barrier, and the information barrier. Bmaps aims to break down the information barrier. Whenever a wheelchair user like me goes somewhere for the first time, we need to call the place in advance to confirm things like the number of steps at the entrance and whether hallways are wide enough to navigate. The motivation for Bmaps was to break down that barrier so that elderly persons and persons with disabilities, as well as their family members, could move about in their communities without that added stress.”
Diverse Range of Users Makes It Possible to Create a Better Map
A unique feature of Bmaps is that users can post information that helps to develop the maps offered, as reflected in the app’s catchphrase: “The places I was able to visit become a map for someone else to use tomorrow.” Most barrier-free maps or map applications to date have only had a limited amount of information, provided by designated individuals. In contrast, Bmaps makes it easy for registered users to add information on the facilities or features of places they visit, or post photos and comments. This makes it possible for users to share all sorts of specific, detailed content.
“We got involved with this project,” Mr. Kakiuchi recalls, “with an eye to a barrier-free approach that would transform disability into value.” For instance, information for wheelchair users can benefit people using baby strollers or older people who have difficulty walking. Similarly, students or businesspersons might be interested in information like access to electrical outlets, which electric wheelchair users require, or about credit cards and e-money, originally intended for people who have difficulty counting paper money because of visual impairments. As these examples show, creating a society that is friendly to persons with disabilities also results in a society where everyone can live with peace of mind. Toward that end, and from the perspective of social contribution, Mr. Kakiuchi is calling on as many people as possible to get involved with Bmaps:
“I think there are a lot of people out there who would like to do something to help build a society with improved quality of life for everyone, but they find it hard to take the first step. Bmaps allows them to contribute to society by just tapping a screen. I think that, along with benefiting individual users, the app is useful to organizations; for instance as a CSR activity at a company or for educational activities at a school. Having as many people as possible get involved in using Bmaps and register lots of information is a way to advance toward a society where a diverse array of people can co-exist.”
Expanding Use of Bmaps Promotes Barrier-free Society
The official version of Bmaps to be released in October, after the period of trial operation, is expected to have information on around 30,000 facilities. The amount of information will increase as more data is uploaded, and the goal is to have information on one million facilities by 2020, when para sports athletes and officials from around the world visit Japan for the Tokyo Paralympics.
Mr. Ohno also emphasized the importance of submitting more and more information: “For Bmaps to become a convenient app as soon as possible, it will be important to have ‘Bmaps supporters’ who volunteer to submit data. In addition to individual supporters, we would like to see entire workplaces or communities get involved, too.” The Nippon Foundation plans to partner with its Student Volunteer Center (Gakuvo) to mobilize the energy of students to include more information on Bmaps.
Mr. Kakiuchi explains his outlook of wanting to bring the issue of making society barrier-free “more into the spotlight” by having many people use Bmaps:
“There is certainly no incentive for stores to become more barrier-free; it happens because of the awareness and courtesy of many people. As Bmaps becomes more widely used, I think that positive reviews will bring stores good PR and raise their status, putting them more in the spotlight. I also think that Japan, as a country with a declining birthrate and graying population, is at the forefront of addressing these types of issues. For instance, in the United States only 48% of train stations are equipped with elevators, whereas the level in Japan is around 80%. I would like to see Bmaps make the world better aware of this sort of barrier-free progress that has been made in Japan. I think that looking at the progress made in Japan will encourage people to strive for similar progress in their own countries.”
With an eye to promoting Bmaps overseas, The Nippon Foundation presented the app in June 2016 at both the M-Enabling Summit held in Washington D.C., and the 9th session of the Conference of States Parties (COSP) to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in New York. Efforts are also underway to develop a Spanish version of Bmaps, and plans call for the municipal government of Quito, Ecuador, to conduct a trial of the app at the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (H-III) to be held there in October, to improve accessibility for the participants. Moving forward, further improvements will be made and more data added, with the aim of becoming the global standard.
Photo taken at the release press conference. Back row, right to left: Daichi Suzuki (Commissioner of the Japan Sports Agency), Toshiaki Endo (Minister in charge of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games), Matsuko Deluxe, Yohei Sasakawa (Chairman of The Nippon Foundation), Yasushi Yamawaki (Chairman of The Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center), Takeshi Nishio (Director of Gakuvo), Shuichi Ohno (Executive Director of The Nippon Foundation), Rio Hirai (TV announcer); Front row, right to left: Daisuke Ikezaki (member of Japan’s wheelchair rugby team), Kazumi Nakayama (member of Japan’s wheelchair racing team), Toshiya Kakiuchi (president of Mirairo Inc.), Takayuki Hirose (member of Japan’s boccia team).
Photographs at Yebisu Garden Place taken with permission