Editor’s Note: Alanna Raffel is an occupational therapist from Philadelphia who created a unique event to make her city more accessible. I had the opportunity to find out more about mapping and accessibility.

GKM: What motivated you to do the mapping event to celebrate your birthday?

AR: I really wanted to do something significant to celebrate my 30th birthday. I knew my friends and family would be excited to celebrate this milestone with me, so it felt like a perfect opportunity to get them (and others) together to make something meaningful happen. The past year or so I’ve been getting more involved in advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities in Philadelphia. One thing I like to do is encourage organizations to hold their events at accessible venues– which has proved to be more difficult than I originally anticipated for a few reasons. Not only are there few accessible places, but it is hard to find them. There are a few resources online but I have found that they are not necessarily up to date, accurate, or user-friendly. I’d love for Philadelphia to improve it’s accessibility overall, of course, by ramping businesses and including wheelchair accessible bathrooms, but building an accurate resource for this information seemed like a really good first step.

GKM:  Please describe the goal of mapping and how others could get involved in their areas.

AR: The goal of mapping is to add public spaces to the Access Earth app. Once you enter a location, the app asks you about a few components: the width and steps at the entrance, bathroom, parking, and functionality of the space. I have added a few restaurants to the app over the last couple weeks, but having a team of mappers will allow us to add a lot of venues quickly. That way, people with disabilities can easily open the app to check out the accessibility components of a venue they are interested in. Similarly, I can use the app to recommend spaces to organizations hosting events. All you need to participate is the app and a tape measure. Download the app and set up a user name to log in. Then you can start adding locations– you just need to tape measure to check whether the entrance to the space is at least 32 inches wide.

GKM: What has your experience as an OT taught you about accessibility?

AR: As an occupational therapist, I work with my clients on participation– participating in school, participating in dressing, and participating in what they want and need to do everyday. Many times, this means working on skills such as fine motor control, strength, balance, and attention. However, my OT background has also taught me that working on participation means modifying and changing the environments around us. We can change the world to be more inclusive of everyone. That’s why I help with sensory-friendly performances through an organization called Art-Reach– so children with autism can join us just as they are. I think it is up to us as advocates to create opportunities for inclusion and community engagement for all.
GKM: How has your Jewish background contributed to your desire for social justice/tikkun olam?

AR: My parents instilled in me a strong sense of tikkun olam from a young age. My brother and I attended a Jewish day school and much of our daily lives focused on making the world a better place. Something that has always stuck with me– my classmates and I were instructed to invite everyone in our class to our Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. This sense of community inclusion has always stayed with me.

My father works in the Jewish community and my mother is a social worker who supports Holocaust survivors. They work day in and day out to make their communities better. One meaningful moment in the development of my passion for social justice is when my father was involved in the Save Darfur coalition. As a high school student, I was intrigued and inspired by the Jewish community’s involvement in this cause. It taught me what an important role we play in contributing to social justice not only in our own communities but around the world.

GKM: What do you hope to accomplish at the event and beyond in terms of accessibility?
AR: I want to make Philadelphia easier for people with disabilities to navigate and enjoy. Eventually, this means increasing spaces that have accessible entrances and ramps. But first, it means gathering the information. Just as I check what time an event starts or whether a restaurant is in my price range, people that use mobility devices such as wheelchairs and walkers should be able to check whether they can enter a particular space. I hope that gathering this information makes this task easier. I want to increase awareness of accessibility in our city for citizens and business owners. I hope increasing awareness encourages business owners to consider opening their spaces to people that use mobility devices. It may sound cliche, but I do believe awareness is the first step. The more I talk to people about this issue, the more they have offered to help and make the necessary changes. I love Philadelphia and it is important to me that we put the time, energy, and funds into making it an inclusive and equitable place.
Alanna Raffel is originally from East Brunswick, New Jersey. In college, she studied psychology and dance. She graduated from Thomas Jefferson University in 2013 and has lived and worked in Philadelphia since.
Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer directs Jewish Learning Venture’s Whole Community Inclusion which fosters inclusion of people with disabilities through the Philadelphia Jewish community. She loves writing/editing for “The New Normal” and for WHYY’s newsworks. Her latest book The Little Gate Crasher is a memoir of her Great-Uncle Mace Bugen, a self-made millionaire and celebrity selfie-artist who was 43 inches tall and was chosen for this year’s Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month Book Selections. She’s recently shared an ELI Talk on Standing With Families Raising Kids With Disabilities.