A feature that's been in the works for a while debuts today in Google Maps as wheelchair accessible routes are added to public transit navigation. It's going to be life-changing for a good many people. I know, because I'm one of them.
Starting today in London, New York, Tokyo, Mexico City, Boston, and Sydney (though I see the feature for the greater Washington, D.C. area, too) when searching for directions that use public transportation a filter for wheelchair accessible routes is available. With this enabled, you're shown routes that thousands of participants in Map's Local Guides program as well as municipal transit agencies have marked as friendly for those with mobility issues. Google is working with other cities to add more places in the coming months.
Sometimes feeling normal can be the best feeling and tools that make it happen are important.
This isn't a complicated bit of news to understand, but how it can touch the lives of millions around the world might be. I can't speak for everyone in a wheelchair, but I know how different the world can be when you're stuck in one.
I've been confined to a wheelchair on and off for 15 years and full-time for the past five. So many of the things I used to take for granted are now problematic, sometimes to the point where I lost any desire to do them. Grabbing a train or bus to head downtown is one of them because getting "stuck" is heartbreaking and embarrassing. And it happens a lot more than you may think; any outing that's new brings apprehension and worry that it may be cut short because there is no way to wheel myself from point A to point B. Something like flying out to Google I/O is fun and exciting for most everyone making the trip but for me, it means anxiety from the moment I say goodbye to my wife until the moment I say hello to a familiar face at the other end.
Accessibility goes beyond those of us in a chair, too. Anyone who has a tougher time getting around may need a ramp or an elevator, as do people with strollers or any type of cart. It's just as easy to get stuck trying to push the kids or a bunch of tools from one place to another and just as frustrating when it happens. Hopefully, we see the feature in more places soon.
For most people, this news won't be as fun as Mario Kart in Maps is. And it shouldn't be – most people you see with trouble getting around don't want or expect special treatment. But helping life be more normal in tiny ways like knowing you can get from a train station to an airport terminal is important to me and a lot of others. Thanks, Google.