In an effort to help all people more easily navigate some of the world's largest cities, Google is adding "wheelchair accessible" routes to its popular Maps software. The update — which currently includes London, New York, Tokyo, Mexico City, Boston and Sydney — will include detailed elevator and ramp access, transit times, and other useful information.
"We built this feature to make life easier for people who use wheelchairs, but accessible routes are also helpful if you’re on crutches or pushing a stroller. With the help of transit agencies around the globe and people like you who contribute local knowledge, we’re making progress toward a more accessible world for everyone," the company said in a blog post.
You can hear the stories of those who might most benefit from the tool learn how to activate the new feature in the video below.
A project borne of necessity
The long-awaited wheelchair option came about as part of Google's famous "20 percent project," which encourages employees to pursue creative endeavors outside of their formal workload. Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, a software engineer at Google who suffered spinal cord damage after a freak accident in New York's Central Park eight years ago, helped lead the effort for a disability-friendly map.
"We've been a ragtag bunch of 20 percenters who are dedicated to this," he told CNBC. "But to really get it funded and staffed in a more substantial way, it will help if we're able to say to the people who manage Maps and who staff projects, 'Hey, look, we have people who are really using this and they're asking us to do more.'"
With the release of the new tool , Google is actively seeking input from users and transit officials about how best to improve both its disability services going forward.
"With the help of users, we’ve been able to add accessibility information to nearly 7 million places around the world," the company added. "By sharing your local knowledge, you’re helping us get even closer to enabling everyone, everywhere to easily discover and explore the places that best suit their individual needs."
The company says Maps will add more wheelchair accessible routes to additional cities around the globe in the coming months.