Many public spaces are not designed with plus size people in mind, as anyone who has broken a flimsy restaurant chair or been forced to purchase two airline seats can attest. In her memoir Hunger, literary superstar Roxane Gay wrote, “The bigger we are, the smaller our worlds become.” These words resonated with Portlander Rebecca Alexander, who dubbed this phenomenon “the ravioli factor” after she went online to check an unfamiliar restaurant’s accessibility and comfort and found herself scrolling through endless photos of ravioli. Alexander realized she wasn’t the only one beset by such anxiety when visiting somewhere new, so she decided to develop an app that answers, “Can we all go?"
AllGo was conceived in September 2017, when Alexander, who has a background in nonprofit fundraising and operations, met Michele Amar, a tech and design strategist. The two surveyed hundreds of potential users and interviewed dozens more. What stood out to Amar was the prevalence. “Of our respondents, about 65 percent feel anxiety before they go out to a new place,” she says. “The more people we would talk to, the more we heard stories like, ‘I don’t really feel like I can exist in this space,’ and ‘I’ve stopped going out to new places.’ Hearing those stories confirmed that [AllGo] would have a good impact on their lives.”
They’ve finished the prototype. Now, to bring their free beta app to market this summer, they need to raise $50,000 through a Kickstarter campaign by April 8. (As of March 27, they’ve raised about $17,000.) About two dozen plus size models and celebrities have expressed their support of AllGo. Roxane Gay donated five signed copies of Hunger (a Kickstarter pledge that sold out the first day), backed the campaign, and tweeted, “[AllGo] would save me and people like me so much anxiety.” American plus size model Tess Holliday posted to Facebook, “This app is going to make it easier for people like my mom to visit new places.”
AllGo will automatically pull basic business information (location, hours, etc.) from Google, and users will rate seating, aisle width, parking, and more criteria at restaurants, gyms, and theaters, as well as for airlines. When users sign up, either with a social account or an anonymous username, they’ll enter their jean size so that, when searching, users will know the average size of the raters. For example, if a place is rated five stars but the average size of that rater is a size 16 and they’re bigger than a size 16, they can consider if it might not be comfortable for them.
Alexander and Amar plan to add five more cities by early 2019 and use feedback from beta testing to expand categories and locations. In the meantime, Alexander offers some advice for people selecting an inclusive venue: “Ask people what their preferences are. Think through what some of the challenges might be. When I go to a place, I always like it when [my straight size friends] defer to me about whether we fit in a booth or a table and then let me choose the first seat.”
Amar adds, “If your friend says no to doing something, you might want to ask if there’s something else they’d rather do instead. Some people don’t feel comfortable saying, ‘I don’t want to go there because I don’t fit there,’ but they’d still love to hang out with you.”