As technology has become an increasingly important tool for urban navigation, city streets and public transport networks have become easier to traverse. But as effective as the use of technology has been for the majority of the world’s population, differently abled individuals in cities still often lack adequate integration. As of last weekend, Google Maps has made a “Wheelchair Accessiblity” option available to users to provide transportation routes that accommodate differently abled individuals.
The Google Maps platform offers four route types: Best Route, Fewer Transfers, Less Walking, and now, Wheelchair Accessible. The new feature allows users to find the best possible route for their journey that accommodates wheelchairs, strollers, or other apparatuses requiring ramps, electric staircases, or elevators. Google says the feature has rolled out in major cities around the world like London, New York, Tokyo, Mexico City, Boston, and Sydney.
Google Maps was the fifth most used smartphone application in 2017 and is used by 57 percent of smartphone users. Last year, Google first announced it was looking to provide services that accommodate differently abled and wheelchair-bound individuals. To do that, they encouraged users through their platform Local Guides to answer five questions about places that they visited to place them on city Maps.
In order to activate the ‘Wheelchair Accessibility’ option on your smartphone, select options after punching in a route and under ‘Routes,’ click on ‘Wheelchair Accessibility.’ The best suggested route will then be displayed on the app’s home screen.
Google Drive’s product manager Rio Akasaka is behind incorporating wheelchair accessibility into Google Maps’ routing. Google currently has had a ‘20 percent policy’ in place since 2004. The policy asks Google employees to use up to 20 percent of their working hours at Google on bringing personal projects to life, with the hopes of incorporating them into the services the company offers. Some of Google’s biggest projects like Gmail and Google News were children of this policy.
Akasaka spent last year working closely with a team of contributors to develop guidelines for accessibility for Google Maps. To expand the data they hand, Akasaka collected data from the Local Guides platform from contributors in exchange for beta features and free storage on Google Drive.
Google Maps has been noting places that accommodate differently abled people, individuals on wheelchairs, or offer other accommodating facilities since 2016; however, the feature was only made available to cities in the United States.
The move to incorporate wheelchair accessibility on Google Maps could have come sooner. In an interview with Business Insider, Akasaka said that Google prioritizes accessibility and inclusion for all in their services, but “it’s often facilitated by whether or not there’s a legal requirement, or some kind of requirement we need to adhere to.”