Navigating the physical world is one of the most challenging problems for the more than one billion people who have disabilities. It is also a hard technical problem to solve. Google Maps is trying to make the world more accessible with the help of Local Guides, a community of more than 50 million people around the world helping to contribute information to Google Maps.
Since launching our campaign one year ago, Local Guides worldwide have worked tirelessly adding accessibility information to Google Maps. Using local knowledge, they answer questions like "Does this place have a wheelchair accessible entrance?”, “Is there an accessible restroom?” and many more.
In that time, seven million Local Guides answered more than 500 million of these questions. Thanks to their hard work, we can now provide accessibility information for more than 40 million places on Google Maps. (And to help people get to those places, our Maps accessibility team launched wheelchair accessible public transportation routes this Spring.)
For both Google and Local Guides, this is just the beginning. At last week’s Local Guides Connect Live, Local Guides from all over the world shared their insights and thoughts on how the program could be improved to promote ever more inclusion in their home countries.
Here some ways leading Local Guides were discussing accessibility:
- Ilankovan Thushyantha, this year’s Meet-up Superstar award winner at Connect Live, is a top Local Guide from Sri Lanka. Ilankovan recently hosted his 48th meet-up, teaching millennials in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka the importance of mapping tools (You can watch Ilankovan's journey or check out his recap report here). He also created a Worldwide Meet-up for Local Guides to host accessibility-themed events this month. During Connect Live, Ilankovan shared that in rural areas, existing questions about places (like if there are elevators) can feel irrelevant, leading us to discuss how upcoming features will allow Local Guides to submit free-form accessibility information more effectively.
- Emeka Ulor won the award for Outstanding Accessibility Contributions, and he even organized an accessibility meet-upduring his trip to San Francisco. At Connect Live, he shared that accessible entrances in Nigeria are often poorly marked—even at government buildings. In addition to improved signage, we brainstormed ways to indicate alternate entrances.
- Paul Gerarts, a retiree from Belgium who is currently living in Malaysia, shared insights from his work in creating audio descriptions of videos and tours for people with vision impairment. Paul challenged us to explore adding questions that help those with “invisible” disabilities such as blindness and hearing impairment.
With the help of transit agencies around the globe, Local Guides like these and 50 million more worldwide are contributing local knowledge and making progress toward a more accessible world for everyone.