Google Maps has taken a step in the right direction for accessibility. They have recently added a new feature that allows users to see if a business is wheelchair accessible from their mobile device.
The feature began rolling out late last year, using human knowledge taken from ‘Local Guides’ of Google Maps and is continually being updated. In fact, if you are signed up to the service then you may have already been asked accessibility-based questions on places you have visited yourself.
This useful information can be found under ‘Amenities’, alongside opening times, accepted forms of payment and whether or not the place has WiFi. Although it is still in its early stages, where the information is limited to a basic level, it has huge potential. This addition to Maps launched initially launched in the US – where there are an estimated 3.3 million wheelchair users (a number that is increasing every year) – and has already been rolled out to other countries with a view to going worldwide in the near future. It currently only appears on mobile devices for people ‘on the move’, but it is only a matter of time before it is available on desktop.
The feature was developed by Google Drive product manager, Rio Akasaka, over the past 12 months during his 20% personal project time. The personal project time initiative set up by Google, allows its employees to take 20% of their time (or one day a week) to work on a project unrelated to their main work duties, subject to approval.
Taking a proactive approach towards accessibility for all, Akasaka and a team of 10 others have been hard at work over the past 12 months developing this addition to maps; putting accessibility-based questions to Local Guides, analysing the data and ensuring it is incorporated into the information already supplied by Google Maps for businesses.
Talking to Business Insider, Akasaka noted that “accessibility at Google is a big deal, but it’s often facilitated by whether or not there’s a legal requirement, or some sort of requirement we need to adhere to”. He also went on to say, “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. It is excellent to see a project like this driven by such a large scale, influential business. It may only be a small change, but it is a huge helping hand for those living day to day with disabilities.