In a small but extremely useful and significant update, Google Maps is now able to tell its users whether or not a building is easily wheelchair-accessible.
Of course, Google doesn’t just know this kind of information for locations the world over as a matter of course, so it’s relying on its human Local Guides.
These guides answer questions about the places they visit in order to provide useful information such as cost, atmosphere, parking availability and, now, accessibility.
According to Google, this database now has millions of contributions so it can probably reliably expect accessibility information to be provided quickly by its users.
To find out whether or not a place you’re visiting is wheelchair accessible, simply find the place on Google, click into its about section, and scroll down to Amenities section. If no one’s provided the information yet, you can do so yourself by accessing this section and suggesting changes.
The new feature is the creation of Google Drive product manager Rio Akasaka, who worked on it for a year using the 20% of time Google gives its employees to work on their own projects.
It's good to see this result in genuinely useful, user-focused features – not only will this information be helpful to those in a wheelchair, it should also prove helpful to parents with prams and buggies.
The information is only available in the US right now, and as the information is gathered from users there will of course still be information gaps in these early stages but it's likely we'll see it grow quickly as international users start providing information.