See how Google is making Maps worth using if you're a wheelchair user

Wheelchair wheels
Wheelchair wheels (Image credit: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central)

What you need to know

  • Sasha Blair-Goldensohn on the Google Maps team is working to make the app more helpful for disabled people.
  • Over 50,000,000 places in Google Maps now have accessibility information.
  • The Local Guides community plays a big role in providing Google with this data.

Sometimes, with all the fuss about the things Google does poorly, we forget that it's filled with people who want to make the world a better place. For some, that means building balloons that can deliver internet service to places with zero infrastructure. For others, like Sasha Blair-Goldensohn of the Google Maps team, it means helping everyone get more from life.

Sasha is in a wheelchair and lives in New York City. Having visited New York City on several occasions and being in a wheelchair myself, I can only imagine the logistical nightmare that public transportation and — more importantly — public access is for him. That's why he's trying to make a difference by building accessibility features like wheelchair-friendly directions into Maps.

Accessibility information is now available for over 50,000,000 places in Google Maps. This information consists of things like a note that the subway station has an elevator and the gaps aren't too wide to cross in a chair, that the bathrooms are suitable for people with disabilities, or that you can simply get inside a business or service area.

The people in wheelchairs you don't see in your city? They've been shut out, and may not be able to be a part of society because their environment isn't accessible. And that's not merely a loss for them. It's a loss for everyone, including friends, colleagues and loved ones of people with disabilities. I'm grateful to those who stay mindful of the issues faced by people like me to ensure that our solutions truly help the greater community.

This is important stuff. Maybe it doesn't affect you because you're not disabled or don't know anyone who is. Hopefully, you stay that way forever. But when you have special needs, you realize just how bad everything can be at providing any of them. Working your way to a restaurant or bar that sounds great on its website only to find that you can't get in the door. Well, that sucks.

Accessibility information is now available for over 50 million places in Google Maps.

Sasha relies on more than just the power of the Maps team, though. The Google Local Guides program has been an excellent resource to let people with mobility issues know ahead of time if the places we want to go can accommodate us. Whenever you visit a place and get questions from Maps about handicapped parking or wheelchair-friendly bathrooms, that data is used to make Maps better for people like Sasha, and people like me.

And it's working. Not too long ago, I couldn't tell if I could use the bathroom at a gas station or had to enter a restaurant through the service entrance and wind my way through the kitchen. Today, sometimes I know before I ask Assistant how to get there. And now we know who to thank for the initiative.

Thanks, Sasha. You've made the world a better place for millions of people like me.

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Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.