Google Maps Adds Wheelchair Info

Some of Google’s employees have put the company’s 20 percent policy to good use. The policy grants employees the right to spend 20 percent of their work time on projects unrelated to their main assignment.


For forward-thinking employees, such as Google Drive’s Rio Akasaka, that meant making Google Maps more useful for people with disabilities. He and a small team took time away from their main projects to come up with accessibility guidelines for the map tool.


Now, alongside business hours and reviews, Google Maps will show information about how suitable a venue is for those who need wheelchairs and other accessibility tools. Akasaka believes that this feature benefits everyone who has special access needs, whether that’s being in a wheelchair or using a cane or walker. The information also helps parents with strollers and people who require medical equipment like oxygen tanks, since wheelchair ramps are useful for them too.


The information comes from Google’s local guides. In addition to answering questions about cost, atmosphere and hours, users now comment about accessibility. Google synthesizes info from the majority of respondents and adds it to the listing.


While this might seem like a small thing, it’s immensely helpful for people who struggle with disabilities. The National Institutes of Health estimates that 2.2 million United States citizens use wheelchairs, with another 6.5 million needing mobility devices such as canes, scooters, walkers or crutches.


This comes on the heels of Google’s 2015 Impact Challenge: Disabilities. The tech giant gave more than $20 million in grants to nonprofits that focus on using technology to make life easier for people with accessibility issues. One of the companies, Wheelmap, is working on a similar project to Akasaka’s. With their grant from Google, Wheelmap is creating a tool to collect accessibility information from a variety of sources. They plan to bring it together in one central spot.


Google dropped “don’t be evil” as their motto, but Akasaka and his team prove that a few employees still use it as their guiding principle.