Google Maps, an app favored by nearly 70 percent of iPhone users, will now list wheelchair accessibility alongside information like traffic and store hours. The new addition makes using the app easier for people with disabilities, as well as parents with strollers and the elderly.
A team of Google employees, led by Google Drive product manager Rio Akasaka, took advantage of a dying company policy to make Google Maps accessible for people with physical disabilities. The famous 20 percent policy, announced by Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin in 2004, encourages employees to spend up to 20 percent of their working hours concocting personal projects that might benefit the company.
Some of Google’s biggest hits — including Gmail, AdSense, and Google News — are products of this policy. But a new rule requires employees to ask their managers for permission before embarking on a project, and an increasingly small fraction of Googlers take advantage of 20 percent time.
Akasaka spent the last year working with a team of contributors to develop accessibility guidelines for the app. He collected information on accessibility from users of Google’s “Local Guides,” who contribute information about locations in exchange for access to beta features and free Google Drive storage. The new accessibility feature was only added after Google had collected months of data from users.
Google takes pride in making information “universally accessible and useful,” so why did it take the company so long to make what is arguably one of its most important apps wheelchair friendly? In an interview with Business Insider, Akasaka said accessibility is important at Google, “but it’s often facilitated by whether or not there’s a legal requirement, or some kind of requirement we need to adhere to.”
You can see if a location is wheelchair accessible by clicking on the description and looking under the “amenities” tab. The feature is not available for all locations yet.