While designing for different-abled people is one of the keys to successful urban planning today, most cities have a long way to go when it comes to retrofitting existing infrastructure to modern accessibility requirements. More importantly, when navigating your way around a city via Google Maps, for instance, you may clear indications of where you can hypothetically make a left turn – but you may not be able to make the turn if you’re navigating in a wheelchair, for example. As Google executives ponder how best to create more inclusive services, they have begun looking for ways to make it easier for people in wheelchairs to get around using Google Maps.
But in order to include features for users with wheelchairs, Google needs the help of locals. The giant search engine is calling on locals to add details specified by the software. Users are asked to answer five questions like “does this place have amenities that make it accessible for everyone?” or “Is there a wheelchair accessible entrance?”
The initiative began when, Belinda Bradley, 19, wanted to take her mother to the London Wetland Center for her birthday in August. “We found that all routes provided by Google Maps demanded stairs, bumpy paths, small hills, foot bridges, crossings without slopes and many times there was no room on the pavement for the chair,” Bradley said.
They were even forced to use the city’s busy bike lanes at one point on their trip, in spite of the risks that entailed. Fed up with the accessibility challenges she faced in her city, Bradley shared her story on social media and started a petition calling on Google Maps to create friendly routes for those with wheelchairs. Her story and the petition quickly went viral. She put a 150,000 goal and since then, the petition has received more than 120,000 signatures. Bradley hopes that her petition will not only help wheelchair users, but will also help those with mobility-limiting disabilities as well as people with strollers, for example.
In Washington DC, a civil rights group took Uber to court last June for “failing to provide adequate service for people with disabilities,” which violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. Last week in Maryland, Metro rejected bids from ride-hailing companies offering to outsource paratransit services for senior citizens and people with disabilities. In its “Abilities Ride” program, Metro preferred to stick to Prince George’s cabs which are equipped with the necessary wheelchair ramps. The program is scheduled to operate on September 18.