Raul Krauthausen of Sozialhelden e.V.

Raul Krauthausen, activist, author, media producer and presenter, advocates daily for the requirements of people with a handicap. With his association - called SOZIALHELDEN (Social Heroes) - he implements smart projects, such as Wheelmap or BrokenLifts, platforms that advise their users where to find wheelchair-suitable places or identify defective lifts.  Krauthausen has studied Communication and has been involved in the internet- and media world for the past 15 years; virtual places that represent an important part of his work. His main objective is, however, not finding and pointing out barriers but fighting all sorts of obstacles for minorities. For this work, he, together with his Berlin association, was awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz in 2013.  

1. In your function as activist you stand up for removing barriers. What is the situation currently like regarding barrier-free accesses in Berlin?

This is quite a difficult question. One would have to find what Berlin wants to be compared with and also, how we define the term ‘barrier-free‘. This term means that a specific location is completely free from barriers, something that will never happen completely. But it is, however, a goal we have to work towards all the time. The ÖPNV [Public Transport] in Berlin does quite well. All busses owned by the BVG [Berlin Traffic Association] are low-floor busses and thus accessible. However, if the ramp is defective or the bus driver is not in the mood, then this is the next barrier. There are still landmarks in the capital that are not in the least barrier-free, as for instance the Fernsehturm.

2. With your ‘Wheelmap’ and ‘BrokenLifts' projects you have achieved that Berlin has become a lot less stressful for wheelchair users. How many users have made use of the websites so far?

Visitors in the 4-figure segment visit both projects per week, which does not sound much, however, it is quite considerable for small projects like these. Additionally, I am always pleased when I am contacted by Berlin citizens every now and then, telling me that they check brokenlifts.org every day before they drive to work. In respect of Wheelmap we have marked more than a million locations and above 300 new ones are added every day. As you can see we do have a very lively community for which we are very thankful.

3. Where do you see a backlog in respect of barrier-free accesses in Berlin?

I would like to see an increasingly better cooperation between administrations and handicapped people. Often, these ‘marginal groups’ are left behind when plans are prepared or they are included too late. If, for example, new buildings are planned, barrier-free access should be considered right from the beginning. This is less expensive than having to integrate this at a later date. Time and again there is this quite satirical situation, if one looks at the Unification memorial for instance, where the incline for wheelchair users is going to be too steep.

Numerous railway stations, public institutions and pubs are still not barrier-free. This is not only really bad for handicapped people but also throws a bad light on the city of Berlin when one thinks of all the visiting tourists and families with pushchairs. A sustainable and barrier-free tourism should be part of a Smart City. Apart from the structural barriers, I also see bureaucratic barriers, unfortunately obstacles not as visible as steps; especially when it concerns applying for social benefits.

4. You have already carried out many social projects successfully. How important is the internet for your work?

Working with the internet is one of our most important tools, not only because many of our projects are online, but also as we can interlink with other activists in this way. However, the internet is not a panacea. None of our apps will remove a structural barrier. We can only attract attention to them. Removing barriers will still have to be done analogously.

5. For years you have been fighting for more inclusion. Has anything improved in Germany?

I think that the subject of inclusion has been received increasingly more by the public but that it is not always looked at positively. Many teachers at schools, for instance, are prepared to increase their inclusive work, however, the problem is non-existing barrier-free access, lacking finances and also personnel and all this will result in frustration. It is for this reason that we have to increase our efforts not only to use the buzzword ‘inclusion’ but to look at the idea behind that and that we have to create a social togetherness, where those people needing help also get help; moving away from a meritocracy towards an inclusive society. In order to achieve this, financial means must be made available and - it must be supported by politics.

6. Smart City means first of all Digital Integration. Do handicapped people also benefit?

This depends on many factors and the question, if anybody can benefit from the offers. First of all we have to ask the question whether the offers are barrier-free at all. Subsequently one would have to look at which problems are actually solved by Smart Cities. It is, of course, very nice to notice all the charging stations for e-cars but that there is still no overview for parking spaces for handicapped persons - apart from the Wheelmap. A Smart City still has unfortunately only too few offers for handicapped people. Before developing new apps, we should perhaps talk about the ethics of a Smart City and who actually benefits. It is, for instance useless to digitalise just about everything and to think that all problems have been solved. No digital solution can remove structural barriers. A step remains a step and cannot be removed by an app.

7. Are there any ‘Best-Practices‘ in Berlin that you like in particular?

What I like in Berlin is the fact that large companies are open and prepared to carry out projects together with associations and NGOs. At the start of BrokenLifts.org we were surprised how well we were able to work together with the VBB [Traffic Association Berlin-Brandenburg], the suburban railway and the BVG as we all had the same goal in common. We hope that we will be able to work together with companies on other projects in future, as for example when extending and professionalising Wheelmap.org.

8. You have already been interviewed numerous times. Are there any subjects or questions that you have not been asked?

I am very glad this time that we have not gone into my personal handicap but have quickly defined handicaps and missing barrier-free accesses in general. But there are times when I would really like to talk about other subjects such as ‘Hate-Speech’ or even digital forms of communication that are developing and changing. And I am asked far too seldom during interviews whether I would like another Duplo? The answer is always: Yes.

9.  What does the city of the future look like for you?

Well, Krauthausen City would, of course, be free from any steps and lifts would always work. My own projects Wheelmap.org and BrokenLifts.org would become obsolete. As mentioned right at the start, I would find it very important to involve all people in urban development. How could we achieve that requests, made by citizens, are not only mentioned every four or five years during elections but would be realised by means of surveys and voting, for example in respect of speed limits within the city? It is especially this kind of digital participation that has not really been implemented in my opinion. In Krauthausen City smart and digital solutions are not developed for the next million-Euro-investment round, but to facilitate life for people.

10.  Can you please complete the following sentence: “Berlin is smart, because…

...the city has tried to test new projects for year and also to implement new ideas with little means. Berlin would be even smarter, if they would only listen to activists as well as experts every now and then, in respect of various subjects and not loose themselves in political squabble.

Thank you very much for your time!