Wheelchair- friendly Vienna(?)
A talk with Mabacher 1

Sometimes, the internet can be a brilliant place. Especially for those who want to make a significant impact on  the broader mass. Especially for those having fascinating ideas, yet limited ways of spreading them.

In 2010, the non-profit organization Sozialhelden launched an online map showing wheelchair accessible spots in order to “help people who use wheelchairs or wheeled walkers to plan their days more easily”. Based on OpenStreetMap, the map is a large-scale example for a highly inclusive project: Anyone can join and not only find, but also mark a wheelchair accessible place. Besides Wheelmap.org being a case of amazingly effective form of civic participation, the overall topic raises some more critical debate.

Having decided to examine the city of Vienna out of every inconvenient and different (and sometimes ugly) angle, we met Martin Habacher aka as Mabacher, blogger on wheels. Being omnipresent on social media, Mabacher knows how to exploit the power of Youtube and Instagram for highlighting social issues. Currently his Youtube channel reaches almost 3K subscribers, and that is mainly because of his humorous, yet sharp and critical approach to his life in a wheelchair.

Accessibility in Vienna: Which three words come to your mind when confronted with this topic?

M.H.: 1. Top in Austria. 2. Protection of historical monuments. And let me think…3. Overcrowded elevators. In general, Austria is on a very good way in terms of accessibility. However, historical buildings will stay, architecturally speaking, the same, even if the hosted institutions change their minds. And yeah, there are a lot of elevators in Vienna, but man, are they crowded! I don’t want to complain though, especially when compared to other cities worldwide. The last time I visited New York there were 468 subway stations, 60 of them with an elevator. Out of which only 20-25 were working.

Which places in Vienna would you consider as great examples for implemented, wheelchair-friendly policy?

M.H.: The Museumsquartier is by far one of the best cases in this city. However, even there they forget to include lower buttons in elevators. Let aside all these little hipster coffee places and bars that are opening up everywhere. I cannot even get a drink with friends there, since there is no appropriate bathroom. And if I drink something, I will definitely want to use the bathroom there, too.

You were invited by Bundeskanzler Kern to a joint event and left once you saw there was no bathroom facilities fitting your needs. I have to admit your attitude was quite impressive. How was this experience for you? 

M.H.: Lots of people thought it was a fake because I got in too late, making the impression of wanting to draw attention to myself. That was not the case though. I was invited to this event. Even though I could have checked myself whether there is a bathroom for me there or not, I simply didn’t. Why should I? I take it as a given that the host can guarantee me using the toilet in peace. So I went there, saw, and left. My leaving made the Youtube clicks rise like crazy, I know. But if the location had been wheelchair-friendly, I would have stayed. Because I would have considered it an interesting experience, despite the low reach of a less dramatic video.

Watch the video here.

How would you evaluate social media as a platform for rising awareness about social issues?

M.H.: You know, back in the day, activists would go on the streets or chain themselves onto a building. Now you have social media. And I use the same modus operandi as all those wannabe-pretty young girls and boys with their beauty tutorials and their videos, because that way I can reach out to them. In the past, we used to say “young and dumb”, and now, if you don’t go with the media, it is “old and dumb”.

On TEDxVienna’s Conference On The Edge, youtuber and speaker Jake Roper admitted that sitting in front of the camera is much more comfortable for him than public speaking. However, you are one hell of a self confident youtuber, I might say. How come?

M.H.: My confidence is purely based on words. Let’s be frank: If somebody walks up on me, I cannot beat him up. But I can tear him apart with my arguments, believe me.

Speaking of words: What are your thoughts on Wheelmap.org?

M.H.: Personally I am too lazy to use it (laughs), but I should definitely check it out more often. It is a great project, but it leaves some discussion open. First, nobody controls the spots marked as wheelchair-friendly. What if somebody just enters a lot of spaces that aren’t, in fact, accessible? And second, it is still not part of the mainstream internet apps such as Google Maps. I still have to check it separately every time. Once that changes, I will be perfectly happy with it. But in the end, it is the crowd I trust, this is why projects like Wheelmap.org mean something to me. I use the crowd for my everyday life. Whenever I need something or I don’t know something, I just ask the crowd. And I was helped every time!

© Anna Schmitzberger

Undoubtedly, the crowd loves Martin back. A lot. Not because he is in a wheelchair. But because of his bright personality. Sadly, wheelchair accessibility is a matter of interest mainly for people directly involved. Chances are, however that social media will turn out to become an unprecedented tool for political inclusion and civic participation. And that is thanks to people like Martin Habacher.

If you have tips regarding Vienna’s accessibility, please make an impact and leave them in the comment section below.

And thanks Mabacher for the short, yet enlightening Q&A session!

pciture credits: anna schmitzberger

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A talk with Mabacher