Mapping Wheelchair Accessibility

Finding your way around your own city or even a new one has become a lot easier in the digital age. Apps like Google Maps means you can have a planet’s worth of road maps at your fingertips inside your smartphone.

Now, Google is making its Maps feature even more useful for people who have mobility challenges, especially when it comes to public transit options. The digital giant is harnessing the help of 30 million Local Guides across the globe who will exchange their knowledge, tips and photos about neighbourhood establishments and transit facilities. The data provided from a few simple questions will help users with wheelchairs or strollers determine whether the location is suited to their needs. The questions are basic. Does the building have accessible entrances or bathrooms, for example?

Laura Slabin, Google’s director of local content and community said the Local Guides are motivated to contribute to the program by a sense of community spirit and want others to be able to get around. Google sent out a tip sheet to help the physically abled guides to identify any problems regarding accessibility. “It’s thinking beyond that just because there’s an elevator, its accessible,” says Becky Curran, a disability rights advocate and local guide who contributes frequently.” Curran pointed out that just because there may be a ramp, the doorway may not be wide enough for a wheelchair to go through.

Google’s decision to take their Maps app one step further to help those people who use wheelchairs is a relief for 19-year-old Belinda Bradley and her family from London, England. Bradley petitioned the tech giant last year after a frustrating journey with her mother who used both a wheelchair and crutches. The short trip should have taken 30 minutes on public transport, but the buses available were either full or were not equipped with ramps. Bradley started her campaign after she checked out Google Maps for an accessible route, and found nothing. Slabin says Google has plans to tackle more issues than just mobility in future, but is pleased the company’s Local Guides program is becoming more detailed as it grows.

For more information about Google getting serious about mapping wheelchair accessibility, click here.