Blog > January 2020 > Google Maps is Embracing an Accessible Future

Google Maps is Embracing an Accessible Future



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If the goal of technology is to make the world an easier place to live in, accessibility is an important priority for tech developers. As new technologies focus on and address accessibility issues, access inclusion is becoming a much more common reality, and overall inclusive practice is becoming a more widely accepted social norm.

For people with disabilities, navigating accessibly is often a challenge. Public transport and public spaces are usually built with an able-bodied community in mind, which means that simple design features frequently overlook the needs of people with disabilities or mobility limitations.

Luckily, the world is starting to take more notice of the access needs of the disability community, and new tech features are being introduced to make more inclusive spaces around the world. Recently, Google Maps launched a new accessibility-focused service to make finding accessible travel options simpler for people with disabilities and mobility limitations, or people using strollers. Wheelchair accessible routes were introduced with wheelchair users in mind, but they’re a great tool for all users with additional access requirements.

What are Wheelchair Accessible Routes and How Can You Use Them?

Google Maps’ wheelchair accessible routes take mobility limitations into account and provide wheelchair-friendly routes for accessing public spaces and public transport services.

Users can type a destination into the Google Maps app, then tap “Directions” and select the public transport icon. Then, users can tap “Options” and select “Wheelchair Accessible” under the Routes tab. Google Maps will then provide a list of possible routes that meet your specified accessibility requirements, ruling out inaccessible options. Accessibility features that Google Maps considers when configuring these routes include the availability of adapted seats, elevators, accessible toilets, step-free entrances, and ramps.

Google Maps allows users to save information, so mobility-impaired users can save the wheelchair accessible search option, meaning that future route suggestions will automatically take access needs into consideration when suggesting travel options.

This accessibility initiative is an extension of Google Maps’ 2016 wheelchair accessible description feature, which enables users to check the accessibility of destinations, according to the reviews of past visitors, by clicking on the location’s description and looking under the “Amenities” tab for further information.

Google Maps is also working to improve its Street View service. Street View provides photographs of Google Maps locations. For people with disabilities or access limitations, these images can be the difference between a successful or unsuccessful trip. Images allow users to personally preview their destinations, which means that they can take control and take note of any architectural features that may pose accessibility difficulties, such as entrance steps, poor hygiene facility access, and so on. Location previews can also help users who experience anxiety or sensory issues by providing an opportunity for them to familiarise themselves with new spaces prior to visiting. Street View images are already available for over twelve million Google Maps locations, and that number is on the rise.  

Google Maps’ new accessibility services will make transport much more easily accessible for wheelchair users, people with other mobility limitations, and parents with prams. In the past, accessibility information has usually been omitted by maps, both physical and digital, and this has been a major barrier to accessibility for people with disabilities. The Google Maps wheelchair accessible route service is designed to make accessibility information readily available and easy to find.

A Collaborative Effort

So far, the Google Maps wheelchair accessible routes service is available in the world’s major metropolitan transit centres, where public transport systems are widely relied upon as primary options for transportation: London, New York, Tokyo, Mexico City, Boston, and Sydney. But the service is an important one, and it’s in high demand, so Google has plans to broaden its geographic scope soon, bringing it to worldwide users.

The development and expansion of this global service relies on community contributions. Local Guides from around the world are invited to answer important accessibility questions about the destinations they visit—whether or not ramps, elevators, accessible toilets, and so on are available, and whether or not entrance steps or narrow doorways pose potential accessibility concerns.

Users who are interested in contributing to a more accessible future are welcome to join Google Maps as part of the Local Guides initiative. Local Guides can answer questions about destinations in their city, provide photographs to be used in Google Street View, suggest corrections and edits for inaccurate location information, and provide destination reviews. They may also receive exclusive invitations to Local Guide meetups hosted by Google in their home cities. Local Guides with disabilities are especially valuable to the Google Maps service, because they can provide personal insight into the accessibility options that are available and how functional they are for people who need to rely on them.

Other Google Maps Accessibility Features

While the introduction of wheelchair accessible routes marks a fantastic step forward to Google Maps’ accessibility focus, the service does offer several other accessibility features that allow diverse communities and people with disabilities to benefit from it.
Google Maps can be used with iPhone, iPad, Android, and select computer accessibility features. VoiceOver and TalkBack services can be used by vision-impaired users, as can text size adjustment and map zoom functions. Wheelchair accessible routes are now available on all devices.

Why The Introduction of Wheelchair Accessible Routes is an Important Step

Worrying about accessibility requirements and limitations, particularly when travelling or relying on public transport, can be incredibly stressful for people with disabilities. Often, it can feel as though the word and its destinations are refusing to cater for non-able-bodied members of the population, and can feel very frustrating and isolating.

Services like Google Maps’ wheelchair accessible routes work towards promoting an accessible and inclusive future, in which people with disabilities can enjoy public transport, public spaces, and travel just as much as able-bodied people can.

The future is accessible, and this is an early step towards it.

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