The first global app that asks people to rate services and businesses according to how disability-friendly they are has been launched by a DMU graduate.
Simon Sansome, who is paralysed from the waist down and uses a wheelchair, has campaigned for better access for several years, including during his time as a journalism student at DMU. He is also part of the team that records Grumpy Gits, the world’s most listened to disability podcast.
He started developing the app, called Snowball, while studying at DMU and admits it has been six years of hard slog to get it off the ground. But he said he was delighted with the results and hopes DMU students and staff get involved to improve the whole student experience around Leicester.
The app has already won support from GB Paralympians and journalists.
Snowball allows users to find businesses such as restaurants, tourist attractions, supermarkets or coffee shops, by selecting their location wherever they are in the world before rating them.
Disabled travellers and locals can add venues they have found welcoming and accessible for people with physical disabilities, learning disabilities and sensory issues. The more people that add suggestions the bigger the app grows - like a snowball.
Simon said: “Snowball will have a significant impact in giving people with physical disabilities, mental health issues and learning disabilities successful journeys and great days out.
“In the last few weeks we have seen BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner stranded on a plane at Heathrow, a Guide Dog charity executive asked to leave a supermarket because of his guide dog and disabled children unable to access playgrounds.
“The app will give people the confidence to socialise with ease as they will be able to see what facilities and venues are available in their immediate location. They will also be able to plan days out, giving people more freedom to access their communities and explore and travel with confidence.”
He added: “Snowball will make a fantastic difference in how people with learning disabilities, mental health issues and physical disabilities access their own communities.
“It’ll be especially brilliant for students and disabled students able to see places that are available to visit when on campus or going out and about with friends on pub crawls and improving their university experience.”
Simon, 40, a former council worker and rugby player from Leicester, became paralysed from the waist down following a sudden injury in 2014. After a year of recovery, he took his wife to their favourite local restaurant only to realise there was no wheelchair access.
Simon Sansome (right), with Hannah Cockroft and Aaron Phipps
Simon set up the Facebook page Ability Access, while at DMU, to highlight good and bad examples of accessibility. It quickly gained 100,000 followers and is now the most-read disability page in the world. The feedback to the page inspired him to set up Snowball.
Simon’s ideas for an accessibility app also saw him win a Jesse Jackson award and a student innovation award at DMU, earning him around £2,500 to kickstart his idea.
Snowball has been endorsed by GB Paralympic gold medallists Hannah Cockroft OBE and Aaron Phipps MBE.
Hannah, a wheelchair sprinter and world and Paralympic record holder, said: “An app like Snowball has been a long time coming. I am repeatedly told that disability access in the UK has improved out of sight, and whilst things are getting better, they are still not accessible. Snowball will change the everyday lives of many disabled people.
“We will no longer have to turn up and pray we can get in, do hours of online research just to find out if we will be able to enter, or phone up and be told a venue is accessible, when it really really isn’t - one step doesn’t make a huge difference, right? Snowball will give people back their time, freedom and independence and create an accessible space for all.’
Aaron, a wheelchair rugby player and marathon racer, said: “Many times when I’m out with friends and family I’ve had to hop out of my chair and hobble around on my bum to get into places. Snowball will give me an accessible world and I won’t have to worry about going out anymore with friends and family because we will all know where we can access thanks to the app.”
Snowball is also backed by former BBC Newsround presenter Martin Dougan, Channel 4 News sports reporter Jordan Jarret-Bryan and Ciara Lawrence, learning disability podcaster.
Snowball can be downloaded from the Play Store or the App Store.
Posted on Saturday 13th August 2022