“It’s like Yelp — but for community resources.”
So said Luisa Graden ’20, project coordinator of a multilingual app designed to connect marginalized communities — refugees, asylum seekers, homeless people, formerly-incarcerated people — to community resources like English as a second language classes or legal aid in the New Haven area.
The app, known as the Resource Access Mapping Project, or RAMP, was created by Elena Hodges ’17 as her capstone project in Yale’s Multidisciplinary Academic Program in Human Rights in the fall of 2016. A year and a half later, RAMP is in the research phase and will be formally launched in the near future. The project leaders are now using focus groups from marginalized communities to receive feedback on the tool, as well as working with New Haven organizations to tailor the app.
Hodges developed the idea when she was matched with an Iraqi family through a collaboration between the Yale Refugee Project and New Haven’s resettlement agency, Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services. As Hodges spent more time with the family, she came to understand the barriers refugees face as they transition to life in New Haven.
“Through talking with them about what they would have wanted to know when they first got to New Haven, the idea to make a consolidated multilingual participatory resource grew and then the whole structure grew around that and it took off,” she said.
So Hodges created a collaborative tool that would allow marginalized people to easily understand and access community resources, such as legal aid, food pantries and English classes. In order to reach as many people as possible, the designers will make the app available in Arabic and Spanish, as well as English.
Graden noted that there is an “abundance of community resources” in New Haven but that it can be difficult for some people to locate them and understand how they work. RAMP seeks to bridge the gap between marginalized people and community resources.
Graden emphasized that she wants to make sure that both marginalized people and New Haven organizations have “a direct voice in how the app is created.” According to Hodges, the “collaborative” nature of this tool sets it apart from other similar programs across the country, and, although this is an online tool, she stressed that RAMP is “building trust with communities first.”
“The thing that’s unique about this tool is that [it’s] designed to be quite comprehensive by touching on all kinds of resources and interactive,” said Jim Silk, a professor at Yale Law School and the founder and director of the Multidisciplinary Academic Program in Human Rights. “This tool is empowering people to address their own needs.”
In addition to the New Haven agencies and focus groups involved in the project, around 40 people — including 15 undergraduates, faculty members and graduate students — have volunteered their time to develop RAMP. Dwight Hall’s Social Innovation Lab and the Schell Center for International Human Rights have provided financial support, and the not-for-profit project compensates participants in its focus groups with those funds.
Charlotte Finegold ’17, who was also part of the human rights program, said the program’s support of such student-developed tools provides a “really wonderful opportunity” for students eager to address local problems.
“From the get-go I thought RAMP was a really brilliant way to apply the time and resources as a Yale student and Hodges’ interests to solve problems that we had seen [in the local communities,]” Finegold said.
Graden anticipates that RAMP will remain focused on the needs of the communities in the New Haven area for the near future, emphasizing that the project is committed to “incorporating the perspectives of the community in all stages of development.”
Optimistic about using technology to address social justice issues, Graden said that providing people with easy access to information is a key step.
“Information access is the best way to give people power and to take charge of their own lives,” Graden said.
Yale’s Multidisciplinary Academic Program in Human Rights was founded in 2014.
Chloé Glass | firstname.lastname@example.org
Clarification, Feb. 1: A previous version of this article stated that RAMP is used by incarcerated people, but in fact it is used by formerly-incarcerated people. The article’s headline has also been updated to reflect the wide range of communities that RAMP is designed to serve.