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Google Maps Wants to Improve Its Wheelchair-Accessible Routes with Crowdsourced Data

Sep 07, 2017

Google is trying to improve the wheelchair-accessibility information in Google Maps, following a 125,000-signature-strong petition calling on it to do so.

On Wednesday, Google Maps software engineer Sasha Blair-Goldensohn—who was himself paralyzed by a falling tree branch eight years ago—wrote in a blog post that the mapping app does show wheelchair-accessible routes thanks to information submitted by volunteers, but "not everyone knows this tool exists, so we want to do more."

Blair-Goldensohn said Google wants the volunteers who contribute to Google Maps, known as Local Guides, to add more information for those with impaired mobility.

The volunteers can do this by going to the section of the app that asks the user questions about the place where they're currently located—the Android version of Google Maps even suggests nearby places that have insufficient information—and answer the questions about wheelchair access.

"If each of our tens of millions of Local Guides answers three of these questions every day for two weeks, we can gather nearly two billion answers to help people who rely on this information every day," Blair-Goldensohn wrote.

"You'll also be making life easier for families with strollers, seniors with walkers, or anyone making plans with a friend who has impaired mobility," he added.

A London woman named Belinda Bradley started an online petition last month calling on Google to make such a move. She was inspired by her own experience trying to negotiate the British capital with friends and family who have disabilities.

"We found that all routes provided by Google Maps demanded stairs, bumpy paths, small hills, foot bridges, crossings without slopes and many times there was no room on the pavement for the chair," she wrote. "It should be easy for everyone to get around, no matter who you are!"

At the time of writing, her petition had garnered 125,893 signatures.

The Local Guides system for Google Maps essentially gives the company a way of crowdsourcing information for free, with the rewards taking the form of virtual badges—although frequent users get extra perks such as online cloud storage space.

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