In honor of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, Google’s adding a long-overdue feature to its Maps app that puts details about a location’s accessibility facilities front and center.
With the “Accessible Places” feature enabled, business and points of interest with wheelchair-accessible entrances are marked with a wheelchair icon along with information about whether accessible seating, restrooms, and parking are available. Previously, all that information was tucked away in a location’s “About” menu, which users would have to navigate to for every destination individually.
“With this feature ‘rollout’, it’s easier to find and contribute wheelchair accessibility information to Google Maps,” Google Maps software engineer Sasha Blair-Goldensohn said in a company blog post Thursday. “That benefits everyone, from those of us using wheelchairs and parents pushing strollers to older adults with tired legs and people hauling heavy items. And in this time of COVID-19, it’s especially important to know before you go so that you won’t be stranded outside that pharmacy, grocery or restaurant.”
To turn the feature on, users can head to the app’s “Settings” menu, then navigate to “Accessibility Settings,” and toggle on “Accessible Places.” Per Thursday’s blog, it’s first rolling out to users in Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom, and America with support for additional countries “on the way.”
Currently, Google Maps contains accessibility information for more than 15 million places worldwide. As for how it amassed this compendium, you can thank good, old-fashioned legwork for that. After a call for contributors in 2017, 120 million users posted updates on Google Maps regarding the presence of wheelchair-accessible facilities. For reference, any registered unit can log an update—just go to the “About” page in a location’s description and tap “Describe this place.” As part of this latest update, this process should become a lot easier for iOS users as well, Blair-Goldensohn said.
An estimated 130 million people worldwide are wheelchair users and roughly 30 million Americans said they had difficulty climbing stairs or used a wheelchair, cane, crutches, or walker according to the last nationwide census.