In the beginning of October we started our mapping project with the school centre Ungargasse in Vienna. Altogether around 40 students aged between 14 and 19 went out in groups of 3-5 people to check the accessibility of their surroundings.
Last Thursday morning all students, teachers and the headmaster gathered at the school to hear about the experiences: fun, interesting, bizarre and eye opening ones. Each group prepared a short presentation and told the others in 5-10minutes about their experiences during the mapping action. In order to provide some guidance and structure some questions we sent the following questions in advance:
What was most fun about the mapping project?
What was most surprising during the mapping action?
What kind of difficulties did you encounter?
How did people react?
We were stunned by the enthusiasm and involvement during the mapping project by all groups as well as the effort put into the final presentations. A lot of pictures were taking during the mapping trip illustrating not only physical barriers like stairs or narrow pathways but also a nice breakfast table at a café where one group started their mapping spree –with a full stomach! One group from the leather design course even made a puzzle that was pieced together by the other students.
Mostly positive feedback was given especially the facts that “it was something practical”, each group had a wheelchair to test and being given the opportunity to provide feedback to the Wheelmap App were emphasized by many students. Many students shared experiences of navigating through Vienna in a wheelchair that made them reflect upon and wanting to change their own past behavior, like using the elevator when there are other people waiting who need it more urgently.
For almost all students it was the first time to be sitting in a wheelchair: some reported about commiserating stares from people on the street, while others found it fairly easy to navigate and experienced a lot of readiness from passer-bys to help. A challenge for every group was to change the wheelchair driver during the event, as it “felt strange to just get out of the wheelchair on the street”. So many decided to go to a nearby side street. Often other passers-by looked very irritated or sometimes even angry when the students took terms in sitting in the wheelchair. When the students had the possibility to explain what they were doing they got positive feedback, however some people ignored the attempt from students to talk with them and just kept on walking.
In order for us to improve and tweak some bits here and there for the next school project we handed out a short survey that will help us to better understand motivating factors as well as difficulties encountered during the mapping project. Every student got a certificate that can be added to future applications and a cinema voucher was raffled off between all students! All in all it was a great project and fun to work with so many motivated and interested young people!