Googlers Use 20% Time To Make Maps Wheelchair-Friendly

AH 2015 Google Maps LOGO 79

When you have a disability that limits your mobility to a wheelchair, it can be tough to find cool new places to go, and you often end up stumbling across decent hangouts and frequenting them simply because they’re wheelchair accessible. While more and more businesses, tourist attractions, and activities these days are becoming wheelchair-friendly, it can still be quite limiting, and can keep you from planning a great day or night out. A group of Google employees have set out to change that by working on adding information on whether a place is wheelchair friendly or not to the usual list of amenities found in destination data on Google Maps.

The project is led by Google Drive product manager Rio Akasaka, and was done using the employees’ “20% Time,” a block of time that some employees can request, and that Google encourages employees to use to make the world around them better somehow, or to just do something cool and innovative. The wide variety of uses that Googlers who request and receive it can find is staggering; Googlers Nat and Lo, for example, produce a video series that educates the public about Google’s projects. Akasaka and his people used their time away from their main jobs at Google to begin researching wheelchair accessibility at a wide variety of locations, and to implement the ability to display that attribute into Google Maps.

The state of the project is quite impressive. Many places already have data entered in, and the data is viewable in the same way one would check up on any other amenities for a place in Maps, which means that the data is viewable in both the desktop and mobile versions of Google Maps. The attached images show this functionality in action. Armed with this information, handicapped Google Maps users can now check out local destinations, plan an outing, and coordinate with friends to paint the town red, all without having to worry about arriving to a destination to find that it’s not wheelchair accessible. The project took place over about a year, involved around five to ten contributors at a time, and is now available to all Maps users.