Google Maps begins release of accessibility information feature

22 May 2020251 Views

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The new Google Maps feature helps users to check if a location is wheelchair accessible, or suitable for people with strollers and those with conditions affecting their mobility.

On Thursday (21 May), which was Global Accessibility Awareness Day, Google Maps announced a new feature that allows wheelchair users to check if a destination is accessible before they arrive.

The feature will first be rolled out for Google Maps users in Australia, Japan, the UK and the US, with support for additional countries on the way, according to the company.

In a blogpost, Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, a software engineer at Google Maps, said: “Imagine making plans to go somewhere new, taking the journey to get there and arriving – only to be stuck outside, prevented from sitting with family or being unable to access the restroom.”

Blair-Goldensohn said that this has been a “deeply frustrating” experience he has dealt with many times since he became a wheelchair user in 2009.

“It’s an experience all too familiar to the 130m wheelchair users worldwide and the more than 30m Americans who have difficultly using stairs,” he added.

‘Know before you go’

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To try alleviate the frustration for wheelchair users and people with disabilities, Google Maps has introduced a ‘know before you go’ feature called Accessible Places. Users can turn on the feature to have accessibility information more prominently displayed in Google Maps.

When the feature is switched on, a wheelchair icon will indicate an accessible entrance and users will be able to see if a place has accessible seating, restrooms or parking. If it is confirmed that a place does not have an accessible entrance, Maps will also show that information.

Already, Google Maps has collected wheelchair accessibility information for more than 15m locations around the world, Blair-Goldensohn said. This figure has more than doubled since 2017, according to Google, thanks to its 120m Local Guides who have contributed 500m wheelchair accessibility updates to Google Maps.

“With this feature roll-out, it’s easier to find and contribute wheelchair accessibility information to Google Maps,” Blair-Goldensohn said. “That benefits everyone, from those of us using wheelchairs and parents pushing strollers, to older adults with tired legs and people hauling heavy items.”

He added that it is especially important to have this information during the Covid-19 pandemic, so people don’t end up stranded outside pharmacies, grocery stores and restaurants.

Kelly Earley is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com