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Stories Asia

Mapping inclusivity in Singapore and beyond

Ever wondered how online maps can be made more inclusive, for persons with disabilities?

Well, on 15 March 2018, Microsoft and Grab joined forces to do exactly that. Teams of 70 volunteers from both organisations embarked on a mapathon to “unlock” Redhill – one of Singapore’s oldest neighborhoods – for people with special needs.

Volunteers mapped close to 700 ‘objects’ with accessibility tags around the Enabling Village, an all-accessible public space located in Redhill combining retail, lifestyle and training for people with disabilities. They identified accessible routes like wheelchair friendly ramps, steps and inclines; infrastructure like bus stops, benches, buildings; and potential obstructions like trees, lamps and path barriers.

Volunteers mapped objects on OpenStreetMap (OSM) within a 500 meter area between Redhill MRT and the Enabling Village

The ‘objects’ added by volunteers will enrich the community-generated mapping platform called OpenStreetMap, which is used as data source to feed numerous apps such as SoundScape, recently released by Microsoft in the United States and United Kingdom to make it easier for the visually impaired to explore towns and cities using 3D audio cues.

Wendy Johnstone, General Manager of Marketing & Operations at Microsoft Asia Pacific, shared that giving is ingrained in Microsoft’s culture. “It’s how we realise our mission to empower every person on the planet to achieve more,” she said.

“What I love about doing this mapathon with Grab and our partners around the world is how we are enabling access to basic information that makes people’s lives richer, easier and more productive.”

Nisha Menezes, Regional Social Impact Manager, Grab, added that “Building good maps is a digital first-solution to solving many of the region’s development problems – as they are a critical resource for governments, local communities and humanitarian organisations”.

“It was truly humbling to see our volunteers map the Enabling Village and its surroundings to help make Singapore more accessible for the elderly and differently abled.”

She mentioned that this was Grab’s 6th mapathon in the region. “We will continue to do our part to improve the lives of more than 620 million Southeast Asians across our markets at Grab.”

Commenting on the mapathon, SG Enable’s Chia Ai Ling, Deputy Director, Communications and Development said that “SG Enable is happy for such efforts to help persons with disabilities, such as those with visual impairment, to navigate more independently around the Enabling Village.” SG Enable had previously partnered with Microsoft on other initiatives.

Microsoft connecting communities in Asia Pacific

Beyond Singapore, Microsoft leverages technology to improve the lives of the visually impaired communities around Asia Pacific.

For instance in Taiwan, Microsoft partnered with a school for visually impaired students to get feedback on Narrator, a built-in Microsoft tool that literally reads things aloud, voicing text and describing notifications or calendar appointments. Through its YouthSpark Coding for Accessibility program, Microsoft has also partnered with ATRIEV in the Philippines to support digital literacy efforts for visually impaired students.

Read more about how Microsoft is helping make Asia a better place through its Philanthropies program here.