Wheelchair Accessible Route Planning with Google Maps

24 May

Assuming Accessibility

Have you ever tried to visit a local restaurant with friends, only to find that there are stairs leading to the entrance and no wheelchair ramp in sight? How about visiting a local concert venue and finding that there are a very limited number of wheelchair accessible seats? Better yet, what about the ever-dreaded bathroom issue? Have you ever had to limit your fluids simply because you were not able to find a public restroom nearby which was fully accessible for you?

For people with mobility impairments, these are everyday concerns. I couldn’t possibly count all of the times that I have had to take each one of these concerns into consideration before making plans to go just about anywhere. Any time I assume that a business or venue will be accessible – it is 2018 now, right? – I inevitably end up proving myself wrong.

Local Guides to the Rescue?

This is why I was so pleased to learn that the Google Maps “Local Guides” feature now collects accessibility information in an effort to make it more efficient for people with mobility impairments to navigate without the inconvenience of being directed to inaccessible routes or locations. The Accessibility section may include details such as availability of accessible parking, a wheelchair accessible entrance, accessible seating, accessible restroom facilities, and/or an accessible elevator.

I thought this would be a great resource to share with you, but before I could offer you a valid explanation of how to use it, I had to wade through a tide pool of my own struggles – and trust me, I had a few! Most instructional articles I viewed were not as current as some of the more recent software updates to the app, so I tended to have better luck using a trial and error method with it. Although I was initially excited about the potential benefits that could be achieved by having wheelchair accessibility details for a destination located within Google Maps, I couldn’t reliably find the information for many of the local businesses/organizations that I searched for. Some had the information, while others didn’t. 

What I found most frustrating was that when I tried to review the same location that I found had no Accessibility information available, I couldn’t get to any of those questions to answer them. Instead, it would only allow me to add a star rating or a written review. I have yet to figure out why this is. There are other apps out there that can be used for wheelchair accessible route planning, but many of them were designed solely for this purpose. Instead of choosing one of them, I decided to start with trying Google Maps because I felt it may have more reach and certainly a wider user base. I’ve added some step-by-step directions below for your reference.


Directions for viewing accessibility information for a location in Google Maps:

​1. Open Google Maps

2. Search the location with which you are seeking information using the search bar located across the top of the screen

3. Select the About section located below the row of options that are labeled “Call,” “Website,” “Save,” and “Share.”

  • ​​Note: This option does not always actually say “About.” It may simply say “More about this place,” or it may have some general details listed within this space instead. You will know that there is more information available if you see a small right caret icon on the right-hand side of this row of information. Touch anywhere within this row to access the About section.
  • In Screenshot 1 from Casey’s General Store below, the About section that I am referring to is labeled with “Late-Night Food – Comfort Food – Breakfast” and has been underlined in red, with the right caret icon to the right of this label circled in red:
  • ​​Not every searchable location has an About option available, and thus would not have Accessibility information to view

4. If wheelchair accessibility information is available, it will be listed here in the About section that is under the label “Accessibility” which I have circled in red on Screenshot 2 to the left.

Accessible public transportation options are also reportedly available to be found by choosing the Public Transit icon, using “Options.” The options icon will then take you to Route Options, which should include an option labeled “wheelchair accessible.” I was not able to find that option when I attempted it, because unfortunately Google has no public transit information available for my rural hometown within Google Maps. It is clear that while having the wheelchair accessible travel option available is a great idea, it kind of falls flat when it comes to applying it to smaller communities that have limited access to public transit. 

Please don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to deter you from using the app. In fact I would actually encourage it – how else would they continue to gather such valuable information? I’m just trying to share my experience to prepare you for what issues you might come across. Although we as humans can be inpatient at times, it seems that time is exactly what the Local Guides program needs to acquire more Accessibility information for destinations which do not have the info available in the app yet. However, Google’s use of crowdsourcing as a means of gathering Accessibility information in Google Maps by creating game-like features as incentives for submitting reviews shows a lot of promise for increasing ease of access to this type of information.

Why become a Local Guide?

By becoming Local Guides, Google Maps users can make an impact with this game-like feature of the app that also collects reviews, photos, and other information about a business or location. Google’s use of crowdsourcing for this feature means that Google can gather this information for free. 

Instead of paying to collect this information, Google rewards the Local Guides who use this feature with points which they can use to unlock “virtual badges” and perks such as extra cloud storage space for well-established users. The information received from Local Guides will later become available in the Accessibility section of that location’s description.

Step-by-step directions to add accessibility information in Google Maps as a Local Guide:

  1. Make sure Location History is enabled on your device and your Google app
  2. Open Google Maps
  3. Go to “Your contributions” in the Google Maps menu in the upper left corner of the screen
  4. Under “Improve the map near you,” select “Uncover missing info”
  5. Choose “Accessibility”
  6. Answer any of the 5 accessibility questions listed

(Note: I struggled with this at first until I realized that I had never actually gone to any of the locations I was trying to add information on since before I had enabled my Location History. You must actually go to the site or location and check in using Google Maps after your Location History is enabled to be able to answer questions.) ​

To go back and review a location which you have recently visited, open Google maps and view your timeline. This option can be found by accessing the menu in the top left-hand corner and selecting “Your Timeline.” Choose a location you are wishing to review. Next, choose “Place Details.” The next message that pops up should appear across the bottom of the screen and say: “Know this place?” Selecting “Yes” will lead you to questions about the business or organization such as “Does this place have a wheelchair accessible entrance?” 

For more information on how to become a Local Guide, visit: https://maps.google.com/localguides


How do you plan your route for the day? 

Do you use Google Maps, or is there another app out there that you prefer? 

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