With one change rolled out this week, Google Maps is making sure that it serves millions of users who have not been able to fully trust it before now. This isn't about navigation app fails, funny as they are. Instead, it's about accessibility — and anyone who relies on public transportation should be glad.
Fans of Google Maps can now search for routes prioritizing wheelchair accessibility. Click the word "Options" before you do your search and select "Wheelchair accessible" under "Routes." Your directions will now exclude any public transit or on-the-ground options that impede travelers who use wheelchairs, are carrying strollers, or rely on mobility aids like crutches, walkers, or canes.
According to the most recent U.S. Census data, 1 in 5 Americans have some kind of disability; 18.2 million of us have trouble walking or cannot walk one-quarter mile. Nearly 1 in 3 disabled Americans also live in poverty, more than twice the national average, and freedom of movement is a huge part of that. Google Maps is taking some of the infuriating guesswork out of getting where you need to go, regardless of whether you're able-bodied or not.
The big downside is that the change is not universal yet. Right now, the "wheelchair accessible" option is only available for Boston, New York, London, Tokyo, Sydney, and Mexico City. Until it becomes standard for every location, Gizmodo notes that Google is also mining accessibility information from its Local Guides program, which may prove helpful in the meantime. Let's hope Google Maps catches up soon with the people who use it.