In March, Google released an update to its ubiquitous mapping application, Google Maps, that integrates wheelchair accessible public transit routes into its directions feature.
Users in six cities – New York, Boston, Tokyo, London, Mexico City and Sydney – can search for directions between locations, choose public transit as the method of travel and then select “wheelchair accessible” from the route options menu. As with all public transit searches in Maps, a selection of routes will appear, but now only routes with accessible stations and modes of transit will be included.
In a statement announcing the accessible transit route option, Google said that, “We’re looking forward to working with additional transit agencies in the coming months to bring more wheelchair accessible routes to Google Maps.”
The update follows on other recent accessibility upgrades to Google Maps, including an update last year that allows users to share detailed accessibility information – such as entryways, restrooms, seating, elevators and parking – about businesses and attractions. Additionally, Google has been sending their street view cameras into transit stations around the world so that users can preview for themselves what kind of facilities and potential barriers await them.
In theory, the new routes option should allow wheelchair users and anyone needing barrier free access to travel between locations without having to worry about inaccessible bus and train lines or transfer stops along the way. But as wheelchair users the world over know, even stations that are advertised as accessible can frequently have breakdowns and construction that render them inaccessible.
Transport for All, a London-based organization that advocates for better accessibility in transportation, issued a cautious endorsement of the announcement via Twitter: “This is a big step forward and a great news. But the success of this new @googlemaps option will depend on accurate data to prevent Disabled people from being stranded on the network by broken lifts or inaccessible routes.”
Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, the Google employee who spearheaded the effort to get this accessibility feature into Google Maps, was reported in a CNBC article as hoping that the new option would be used by disability-rights advocates. People could use the route data showing limited options and increased transit time to help petition their local transit authorities for better accessibility.
Better data and visibility leading to better accessibility, it’s a move in the right direction. As one of the world’s largest tech firms, Google has the resources to shine an increasingly bright spotlight on one of the biggest issues facing people with disabilities: community accessibility.
At New Mobility we’ll be tracking the expansion and evolving functionality of this and Google Maps other accessibility innovations. To keep up to date on New Mobility’s reporting, like our Facebook page, follow our Twitter feed, and you can sign up for our bi-monthly newsletter.