Accessible places with Google Maps

Google Maps has two new features to help us find our way and what we are looking for. Live View uses the camera in your phone to give street view directions, and the “Accessible Places” feature marks entrances with wheelchair access.

Accessible Places feature

Google Maps has expanded its “Accessible Places” feature that shows when a place is wheelchair accessible and/or stair-free. It will be interesting to see if this will encourage more places to make their businesses accessible. As we know, when it’s good for a wheelchair, it’s good for prams, bikes and trolleys.

The feature was originally launched in 2020, but it was limited to just Australia, Japan, the U.K., and the U.S. Now, the feature is available worldwide on Android and iOS.

Google Maps pin icon against a background of different coloured dots.

To use this feature, turn on the “Accessible Places” setting in the Google Maps app. You will see a wheelchair icon on the business profile if it has a wheelchair accessible entrance. You will see the same icon with a strikethrough if the location is not accessible. The feature can also check to see if the location offers accessible parking, facilities, and seating.

Steepness of slopes doesn’t appear to be covered, and Google doesn’t say if their access maps are accessible.

It’s up to business owners to update their business profile to reflect whether their business is accessible. It’s unlikely Google will check whether this is true, but user feedback should keep businesses on their toes.

Live View feature

When walking around in new surroundings, Live View helps you keep your bearings. Using the phone camera, the flat map view is transformed into the street view with arrows so you know which way to head. A great plus for tourists and visitors.

When walking around in new surroundings, Live View helps you keep your bearings. Using the phone camera, the flat map view is transformed into the street view with arrows so you know which way to head. A great plus for tourists and visitors.

With Live View, users can walk the streets using the camera on their phone and get directions on the screen. The updated version has more information such as cafes, ATMs and transit stations.

A Gif of Live View in action showing a street view on Google Maps.

Different app developers have tried their hand at creating access maps, but Google brings many features together on the one screen. However, access for wheelchair users does not guarantee access for everyone, and it doesn’t cover all disabilities. It also doesn’t say how welcome people with disability will feel. Nevertheless, it is a good start and Google will continue to improve. The next thing is finding places where you can hear each other talk.

Out and about with dementia

Getting out and about is good for everyone’s physical and mental health. However, the fear of getting lost or confused when outside the home prevents many people with dementia from leaving home. Consequently, they tend to limit their time away from the house. But with good planning and community help, people with dementia can maintain the benefits of walking and taking a holiday.

“I am a person.

Sometimes people like to go for walks, even people with dementia. Sometimes people get lost, even people without dementia”

Taken from Kate Swaffer’s poem, ‘Wandering along the beach’. (2014)

Front cover of Walking with Dementia.

Dementia Australia has two booklets, Walking safely with dementia, and Travelling and holidays with dementia. These booklets are designed for people with dementia and their families. However, the information is good for communities who want to make their places and spaces dementia friendly.


The walking guide features strategies people can take to make sure they stay safe and know what to do if they become lost. They can be as simple as carrying identification and establishing familiar routines and places. The section on safety involves avoiding crowds and disorienting entry and exits. Double entry and exits in shopping centres can cause confusion for people without dementia. Directional signage on the way out of the toilet is useful for everyone.

Dementia Australia has a Dementia-Friendly Communities program where people can learn more about dementia and how they can help. There’s a list of things you can do if you meet someone who may be lost.

“My mother has dementia, but her life continues to be enriched with fulfilment. We went on a cruise last year that provided us with uninterrupted time, gave me some time to relax and just be there for my mum while our needs were taken care of. It was difficult at times, but so rewarding to have shared this time together”

Front cover of Travelling and holidays with dementia.

Travelling and holidays

Similarly to the walking guide, careful planning is key to success. The holiday booklet covers travel by sea, air, car and public transport. There’s a checklist of things to consider and how you can plan to optimise your level of capability. When it comes to accommodation, it’s useful to notify hotel staff. Some hotel accessible rooms might be more comfortable.

There is nothing in this booklet for transportation agencies for people with dementia. However, it gives travel and accommodation providers insights into the lives of people with dementia and their families.

See also the Age and Dementia Friendly Streetscapes Toolkit.

Accessible tourism: the call of the wild

Wide open vistas, mountain wilderness and crystal clear lakes attract visitors from near and afar. But the very nature of these landscapes means they aren’t easily accessible to everyone. Similarly to beach locations, this is a situation where assistive technology meets universal design. However, providing a specialised track wheelchair or beach wheelchair, for example, cannot do the job alone. It still needs an accessible travel chain.

A man in his wheelchair with the Freedom Trax attached. He is on a walking trail.

Tourist destinations in the natural environment can be inclusive if there is joined up thinking. That is, joining up service delivery and staff training with the physical environment and, at times, the addition of some assistive technologies.

Having an all-terrain wheelchair device is only one part of the tourism experience. A paper reporting on a case study of specialised mobility devices shows the importance of user testing. Getting in and out of the device, operating it, and being part of a group, all need testing for convenience and useability before they become part of the service. The authors used the principles of universal design in their study and sum up with the following:

  • The entire customer journey must be inclusive: toilets, parking, cafes, cable car, etc.
  • Transfers must be supervised by trained staff
  • Trails must be tested, marked and secured
  • Emergency procedures set up in case of an accident
  • Training courses for tourism service staff in the use of assistive technology
  • The devices are expensive and hiring might be a better option

The title of the article is, Improving the Accessibility of Touristic Destinations with an Assistive Technology For Hiking – Applying Universal Design Principles Through Service Design. The article mentions the Freedom Trax device and the video below shows the device in action. Courtesy their Facebook page. Freedom Trax is just one of similar products available.

From the abstract

Accessible Tourism focuses on the logistical attributes being accessible to all and on the process to develop accessible products and services with stakeholders. Assistive technologies have the potential to improve the accessibility destinations such as those designed for hiking.

However, their integration on the customer journey has to be designed as a service. To this end, universal design principles and guidelines should be used in the design process.

The potential and the conceptualization of applying universal design principles for tourism has been widely discussed. However, little has been done to operationalize this idea.

In this article, we demonstrate how to co-create with users an accessible tourism service using assistive technology who enables hiking for people using wheelchairs. Our main findings illustrate the pros and the cons of using and assistive technologies and the importance of considering the whole customer journey to improve the accessibility of touristic destinations.

See a related post, Taming the wilderness with inclusive design.

Accessible Tourism Resource Toolkit

Front cover of the accessible tourism resource kit showing hot air ballooning over the city.The Business Victoria website has a sub-section on accessible tourism. Unfortunately it is listed as separate from other aspects of tourism such as starting up a tourism business. Nevertheless, the Accessible Tourism Resource Kit has some useful information for existing businesses in the sector.

Similarly to other guides on accessible and inclusive tourism the Accessible Tourism Resource Kit covers:

      • Discover what you are missing
      • Explore your local area
      • Make low cost changes
      • Assess your building and facilities
      • Describe your business
      • Promote your business.

Editor’s comment: The PDF version of the Kit has a very light type-face and this is not a good design idea. By comparison, the accessible Word version has good text contrast. 

The City of Melbourne has a website section with access information, for recreation, entertainment and cultural venues. Shopping, cafes, exhibitions, playgrounds, toilets, sport and recreation are covered in detail. There is also a link to a Melbourne mobility map.  

There are more guides in the travel and tourism section of this website.

Airport travel guide for people with dementia

Front cover of the Brisbane airport travel guide for people with dementia showing an aircraft overlaid with artistic coloured squaresAirports are confusing places at the best of times, particularly for the first visit. The size, noise, and number of people don’t help. If the signs aren’t in a language you understand it can be bewildering. Knowing what to expect before you go is a great help. Brisbane Airport  airport travel guide for people with dementia is also good for first time visitors.

The guide is titled, Ensuring a Smooth Journey: A Guide through the Brisbane Airport’s International Terminal for People Living with Dementia and their Travel Companions.

The guide is easy to follow. It covers preparing for the journey, getting to the airport, checking in and flying out. Coming home again addresses, passport, baggage claim, and domestic transfers among other things. There is a list of dementia friendly symbols at the end of the guide.

While this guide is specific to Brisbane International Airport, much of the information could be adapted for other airports in Australia. As with most things designed with a particular disability in mind, it is probably useful for any first time overseas traveller.

Airports and autism

People in warm clothes push their baggage at an airport. Vancouver airport has introduced a simulated rehearsal program to help families with the whole pre-flight process so it becomes more predictable. People who are likely to be overwhelmed by the whole process like to know beforehand what is going to happen and how it all works. This could also include people who are new to air travel, especially now that most processes are automated.

The program includes the Vancouver Airport Resource Kit, which features a step-by-step storybook, interactive checklist, airport map and tips for travel. There is also a video series that helps travellers with autism prepare for the flight.

Vancouver airport has an “Autism Access Sticker” that can be placed on boarding passes. The sticker ensures a smooth transition through screening and customs. It also communicates the specific needs of passengers to airport employees. See the video series below. Very well done – a good model that can be applied to all airports.

Guides to historic buildings and places

Front cover of the guide to historic buildings. Buildings from previous centuries didn’t consider access and inclusion, so the two don’t go together well. Historic England has taken on the challenge with their updated guide, Easy Access to Historic Buildings. The guide also includes information for businesses and attractions within an historic site, such as shops and cafes. These places aren’t necessarily historic, but add to the overall visitor experience. The guide can be downloaded in sections.

Front cover of the guide with four pictures of people in different historic locationsHistoric landscapes, gardens and open spaces are there for everyone to enjoy. Historic England has produced a guide for anyone working to open up historic sites to a wider audience. This edition promotes an inclusive approach to ensure that every visitor to an historic park, garden or landscape has a meaningful experience – not just physical access.

Property owners and managers designers, and planners should find the guide helpful in tackling all aspects of the visitor experience. The key elements of the Easy Access to Historic Landscapes guide are:

      1. Why access matters
      2. Planning better access
      3. Making access a reality
      4. Published sources of information
      5. Where to get advice  

Access to hotels for people with hearing loss

One of the first things hotels can do is ensure room TVs have subtitles/captioning and a remote that activates it. Many streaming services that hotels offer have captioning and a TV without access to this function is very frustrating. 

The Inclusive Hotels Network in the UK has a guide for hotels for people with hearing loss. It covers the built environment, technology and management of services. The customer profile section is also useful with some facts and figures about travellers and visitors. Degree of hearing loss varies greatly from difficulty with speech discrimination through to total deafness. So there is no one-size-fits-all solution. 

There are more resources in the Travel and Tourism section of this website. 

Air travel with a wheelchair

Wheelchair users find air travel the most challenging transport of all. Not because of a personal issue, but because airlines don’t like wheelchairs. Every wheelchair user crosses their fingers and hopes that their wheelchair will come through the flight without damage. The other inconveniences and indignities just add to travel stress.

Wheelchair users can stay in their powered wheelchair in taxis, trains and buses, but not in aircraft. The Transport Research Board has concluded that installing wheelchair securements is a win-win for wheelchair users, airlines, and everyone else involved in transporting wheelchair users.

A 12 year old girl is distressed in an aircraft aisle chair after her power wheelchair was taken away.

No major design or engineering challenges stand in the way of securing power wheelchairs in commercial airplanes.

Transport Research Board.
Photo credit Heike Fabig (in Daily Mail)

The title of the article is, Transportation Research Board details efforts to make national travel more ADA accessible. It was published online by Transportation Today.

“In air travel, preliminary research from a TRB consensus report determined that no major design or engineering challenges stand in the way of exploring the market’s need for and technical feasibility of securing personal power wheelchairs in commercial airplanes. This would be a major boost for non-ambulatory travellers, who are not currently allowed to use their personal wheelchair as a seat when flying.

Close up of a row of aircraft seats which are bright blue with grey backs.

Currently, people are potentially put on a flight in a seat that is not appropriate for them. Travellers and airlines risk injury in transfer and in flight. It also risks serious damage to a person’s necessary chair.

The indignity of being hoisted from a personal wheelchair is just one of the difficulties. Worrying that the wheelchair will be unharmed at the end of the flight is another. If it is damaged there is rarely a suitable replacement. Most wheelchair users have their chair fitted for their particular requirements. Some wheelchair users dehydrate themselves before the flight so they won’t need the bathroom during the flight.

Tourism and Disability: Book review

A woman in a yellow jacket is being assisted onto the tour bus by two men up a ramp.Tourism and Disability is a new book addressing the existing  challenges and opportunities related to tourism for people with disability. The Booktopia review describes this as an underdeveloped and underestimated niche market. While there is a larger market for family group travel, there is also a market for disability-specific tourism products. 

The book examines the strategies, policies, and initiatives at regional, national, and international levels. The aim is to foster the development of accessible tourism.  It examines the different social, cultural, legal, and information/interactive barriers to inclusion. The book’s focus is on the distinctive travel demands of people with disability and how their needs differ from the preferences of travellers without disability. 

The various chapters provide a multidisciplinary approach to the topic covering management, economics, and statistical analysis. This makes it useful for academics and practitioners alike. 

Front cover of Tourism and Disability. The Title of the book is Tourism and Disability: An economic and managerial perspective. Published by SpringerLink you can purchase individual chapters online. The book is also available from other suppliers. 

The book is structured in sections dealing with the supply and demand sides of tourism for people with disability. The final section takes a “tools-related perspective”. 

The editors and most contributors are based in Europe where tourism is a key part of the European economy. 

You can find more posts in the Travel and Tourism section of this website. 

Future of tourism should be accessible

While the tourism industry thinks “accessible tourism” is for a separate type of customer, the concept of equity and inclusion will remain elusive. Assumptions and biases show up in our language, and those who are on the wrong end of these biases are the ones to call it out. Ryan Smith called out this bias when he saw a Tourism Australia infographic depicting the future of tourism and made his own infographic. 

The Tourism Australia infographic depicts six strands, adventure, wellness, youth, agritourism, accessible, and events. The bias is in the assumption that the five other strands aren’t going to be accessible. However, the graphic shows sustainability and Indigenous culture across all six of the strands.

Tourism Australia's infographic showing accessible tourism as a separate entity.
Tourism Australia’s view of the Future of Tourism

Ryan Smith reproduced the infographic to bring the concepts into the 21st Century. The five strands are depicted as resting on three key elements: Accessible, Indigenous, Sustainable. He also replaced the photographs with icons for an easier read.

Ryan Smith's version showing Accessible as part of all other types of tourism.
Ryan Smith’s version showing Accessible as part of all other types of tourism.

This is a good example of exposing biases. It also shows why we should involve all stakeholders in publicity and promotion. That’s what makes co-design a good thing for everyone and for business. 

Tourism Accessibility Guides: Good examples

A heritage building in Scotland at night with nice lighting from the windows. Accessibility guides like this encourage more visitors.
One of the attractions from the Visit England website

According to the Visit England website, 63% of tourism businesses do not promote their access provisions for visitors. Yet 95% of visitors with access requirements look for this information before deciding to visit. The website also has advice and help for creating and publishing accessibility guides. It includes sections on photography, and how to create a location map and video guide. 

The Visit England website also has a link to a video and three good examples of tourism accessibility guides:

Self-catering example

The self-catering example has an easy to read webpage setting out where there is level access, and access to bedrooms. Under the hearing tab it explains the TVs have subtitles and a hearing loop. 

Under the vision tab it explains colour contrast, large print and Easy Read formats. They have non-allergenic bedding and a portable hoist. 

There is a three-minute video explaining the importance of this information and how businesses benefit. 

Restaurant example

The restaurant example explains they are a family run business and similarly to the self-catering example they cover level access, hearing and vision. They cater for a variety of diets and assistance dogs are welcome. 

Visitor attraction example

The example is based on a whisky distillery with a guided tour, a shop, restaurant and tasting experience. Visitors can check out level access, and provisions for hearing and vision.

The example guides are a good start, but would be enhanced by more photographs of the rooms and spaces. See previous post on The Kelpies for another good example of a guide for ALL visitors. This one is in the form of an access statement and includes several photographs to aid visitors.

Is your pub accessible?

Picture from front cover of the booklet showing two pubs and a man who is blind using his smartphone to order food. Is your beer accessible?The British Beer & Pub Association has a straightforward booklet of advice and good case studies for accessibility. It dispels a lot of myths, and many of the adaptations are simple, such as easy to read menus. It covers physical, sensory and cognitive issues that potential customers might have. So joke-type symbols for toilets are not a good idea, as well as understanding that not all disabilities are visible. Excellent resource for any food and beverage venue. As is often the case, it is not rocket science or costly, just thoughtful.

The title of the publication is An Open Welcome: Making your pub accessible for customers. “Pubs are places where everyone is welcome. It’s where family, friends and colleagues come together and where tourists to the country feel they will see the true, welcoming Britain”. 


Accessibility Toolbar