helps disabled navigate Web and daily life
| Navigating around Los Angeles
can be a daunting task for anyone. But it was a lot tougher for Martha
Alfaro when she moved here from Missouri in 1987.
It took Alfaro, a paraplegic, six hours just to find transportation
capable of taking her from Los Angeles International Airport to a
university less than five minutes away.
Today, getting around Los Angeles for Alfaro and other disabled people
is a lot easier thanks to a new Web site called Living Independently
In Los Angeles (LILA).
Launched last month by UCLA's Advanced Policy Institute, the site
aims to help disabled people lead more independent lives.
Employing state-of-the-art mapping technology, LILA shows users the
location of everything from nearby service agencies to bicycle shops
that repair wheelchairs.
Beaches and trails that are accessible to disabled people are also
pinpointed, along with access points and ramps in government buildings.
Alan Toy, the site's project director, said he hopes LILA will help
ease the relatively isolated lifestyle that many disabled people lead
and encourage them to use the Internet, which can be a particularly
valuable tool for those who have difficulty leaving their homes.
"My dream is that it will create communities rather than isolate people,"
as the Internet is often said to do, he said.
Model for others
Toy and other supporters of the site also think it will become a model
for other cities around the region.
There are about 2 million disabled people in Los Angeles County and
250,000 in San Diego County, according to the estimates by experts
on the disabled.
In San Diego, some people are already paying attention.
Bud Sayles, executive director of the Access Center of San Diego,
an independent living center in Hillcrest, said he's "really interested"
in seeing how the LILA site works out.
Alfaro, who lives in Santa Monica, said the site already has made
her life easier.
"If you have a disability, you have to plan ahead," she said. Before
setting out on a trip, it's important to know paths and entrances
that are user-friendly for disabled people, she added.
"I had to find that out by experience. Now I go to LILA, and I get
For years, Toy said, the Internet has been making daily tasks such
as shopping, paying bills and communication easier for people who
have trouble leaving their homes.
The LILA site also wants to cut down the amount of time it takes to
surf the Web for the right information, and filtering out wrong or
outdated information, Toy said.
In addition, the site addresses the needs of people with a wide variety
of disabilities, including those who are blind, deaf, are amputees
or those who have developmental disabilities.
The interactive maps not only show where an agency is, but what kind
of services it provides, who to contact and what other users think
of it -- all in a matter of mouse clicks.
Also, the site gives disabled people -- who often feel isolated from
the rest of society -- a chance to interact with each other through
an online forum.
Toy said plans are under way to have the site provide the locations
of all curb ramps and other accessible paths of travel throughout
The federal Americans with Disabilities Act has made most businesses
more physically accessible, he said, but disabled people still don't
know where they can get the easiest access to wheelchair ramps, restrooms
for the disabled and other amenities.
Toy knows firsthand what he's talking about. He's a paraplegic due
to polio he contracted when he was 3 years old.
When a user accesses LILA through a free log-in account, a map of
the area where the person lives appears.
The maps can be used to find resources that are not widely known,
including talking ATMs, blind fencing teams and accessible
apartments for rent.
The site's users are encouraged to share knowledge of specific agencies,
buildings, restaurants and other information they've gained over the
The site is compatible with adaptive tools such as text readers and
Brian Albriton and his wife, Denise, who are both blind, said they
have had no problems using the site with their text-reading software.
The couple, active Internet users, have signed on to LILA several
times since its inception and have learned something new about their
community each time.
"Sometimes, there might be something in the neighborhood you never
even knew about," said Denise Albriton.
Toy estimates that the site will cost $1.5 million over three years
to maintain. Microsoft has donated about $75,000 in grants and an
equal amount in software. Other donors include the GTE Foundation
and the Community Technology Foundation of California.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has approved $125,000
to support the site, and the Los Angeles City Council is likely to
approve $100,000 this month, Toy said.
LILA could also help close the "digital divide," said John Whitbread,
program manager with the Westside Center for Independent Living, which
is partnered with the site.
Only 25 percent of people with disabilities own computers, according
to a report published by the Disability Statistics Center in San Francisco
"Those are the people we need to bring online," Whitbread said.