The Google Maps app now indicates if a location is "accessible" to wheelchair users. Here's how it works: users can now click on various storefronts and other public places within the mobile app, and it will say whether the locations have accessible entrances. The information is listed under the "Amenities" section for each business.
This is not the first time that someone has attempted to provide information about the accessibility of businesses, as we previously reported, but the fact that this is a project powered by Google means it will likely produce information on many more businesses. It raises quite a few questions:
Is the information reliable? It is our understanding that the information comes from "Local Guides" – users who answer questions in exchange for early access to new Google features. After collecting data over this past year, Google recently added the accessibility information to its popular Google Maps App. We have very serious concerns about people providing "accessibility" reviews when Google has not provided any objective criteria for such people to use. Under Title III of the ADA, there are very specific standards used to define whether a business is "accessible." We suspect that most of the people providing input on the accessibility of a business do not know what these standards are. What standards are they using to judge a business' accessibility? We don't know. The designation also does not necessarily indicate which part of the business is accessible. Is it just the front entrance? Restrooms? Aisles? Dining area? The feature does not go that far. We also find suspicious the fact that the accessibility designation is supposed to indicate that the business is accessible for people who use wheelchairs as well as strollers and canes. Those three different types of users have very different needs but the designation is one size fits all.
What if a customer thinks that the accessibility designation is not accurate? The only available feature is "suggest an edit" though it is unclear where these suggestions go.
Will this new feature will be used by serial plaintiffs who are looking for businesses to sue even if they have no genuine desire to patronize them. "Google lawsuits" already exist whereby individuals look at aerial screenshots via Google maps to determine whether a business contains certain amenities, like a pool lift for an outdoor pool. The accessibility designation, or lack thereof, may provide an easier way for serial plaintiffs and their lawyers to conduct an initial screening of their potential targets from the comfort of their homes and offices.
One thing is for certain: Technological advances have dramatically changed the ADA in many ways: improving the lives of many people with disabilities, creating new challenges for them and businesses, as well as facilitating lawsuits.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.