With every passing year, technology gets more and more advanced. This is especially true in the transportation and mobility industries. We have seen advances from fold out ramps to in-floor ramps and manual wheelchairs to motorized ones. We have also seen first-hand how conversion features that have been developed over the past few decades can help people in wheelchairs to live more independently than they ever could before.
While our industry strives to create independence for wheelchair users, accessibility and accessible standards have not had as many advances as we would hope. But, that is starting to change. One application is leading the way for advances in technology which allow wheelchair users to get from place to place just a bit more easily. This application is one you may have heard of before. It is Google Maps.
The Google Maps Application
Since its release to the public in 2005, Google Maps has changed the way that people get around. Long gone are the days where a passenger needs to flip through page after page of map books to help a driver navigate. Originally released as a web-based program, Google Maps allowed users to get step-by-step directions from point A to point B. It was not long after, in 2008, that Google Maps was released as an application on both Android and Apple phones. Since then, the platform has regularly released additional features to help users get from place to place. And, earlier this year it released another new feature to its ever changing design. This time it is a feature that can help wheelchair users get around.
Introducing the Wheelchair Accessibility Feature
Earlier this year, March to be exact, the Google team released an accessibility feature as part of an update to the Google Maps application for Android and iPhone. Currently only available for getting around six major cities (London, New York, Tokyo, Mexico City, Boston and Sydney), the feature allows wheelchair users to map out accessible routes in cities that are notoriously known for not being very wheelchair friendly.
The Team Behind the Launch
One of the application feature developers, Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, was partially paralyzed over eight years ago. When he returned to work at Google’s New York offices, he realized how challenging the New York City streets, subways and buildings were to navigate from his wheelchair. From this experience, he knew he could help other wheelchair users and make a difference in the way they get around. He along with two other Google employees started working on the feature outside of their regular workload, just for New York City, and found that other wheelchair users were utilizing the feature and looking for more. After two years of work, they launched the full feature with the first six cities.
How the Feature Works
So, how does this accessibility feature work exactly? Once a destination is selected within one of the available cities, users can get accessible directions (or routes) and they can also preview images of locations to view accessibility first-hand before ever personally exploring the location for themselves. This includes routes for sidewalks, within transit stations, the locations of accessible restrooms, and more.
Enabling the Feature
With just a few clicks, users can enable this new feature within their Google Maps application for cities that the feature is available for. All users need to do is enter a destination in the search bar and click on directions from current location. Then, click on the options tab and select the “wheelchair accessible” option from the drop down list of options. The directions will then display utilizing information specific to accessible routes and any images associated with the destination will populate.
What this Means for Wheelchair Users
Now, wheelchair users can experience the same thing that able-bodied users experience on a regular basis. They will not have to second guess or spend hours researching routes further to ensure they are accessible, because they will already have been selected as accessible and wheelchair friendly.
While not yet an exact science like vehicle transit times, disability advocates may also be able to use the route information available within this feature to better explain how much longer it takes for a wheelchair user to get around. This information could be especially useful when cities are planning changes to buildings, walkways and even public transportation.
Other Capabilities of the Feature
While the main goal of the Google Maps feature is to help wheelchair users get from point A to point B in a much easier way than ever before, there are other ways people can utilize this feature. This feature will also aid people pushing their children around in strollers, those using crutches or people wheeling around luggage. Additionally, the images the Google team is adding to locations, through the “street view” area of the application, will help people research destinations and become more familiar with them prior to visiting. This can help to reduce travel anxieties people feel when visiting locations they are not familiar with or have not visited in the past.
Paving the Way for the Future
While the application update launched with only six cities with this feature, the team behind the update is hoping to add additional cities on an ongoing basis. To do this, they are working with transit agencies across other major cities to help speed up the work and make the addition of other major cities a possibility. Their hope, much like ours, is to see wheelchair users become more independent than ever before. We may be biased, but we hope that Minneapolis or Saint Paul will be added to a future update for the feature.
At Rollx Vans, we love seeing other companies taking a step for the betterment of our community and paving the way for accessibility. We know our customers love seeing this too. Contact our team today if you are ready to take the next step towards a more independent future. We are ready and waiting to help you hit the open road with one of our handicap vans for sale.