Why these two Googlers are dedicated to accessibility
Caption: Two photographs. Left: Cat with a stuffed bear she did not win, nor come close to winning, at Coney Island. Right: Rio standing in front of a railroad track at sunset. Rio is safe and not about to be run over by a train.
Today we're sharing an interview between two Googlers who’ve helped make it possible for people to share accessibility information on Google Maps. Local Guides, meet product managers @catwu and @RioAkasaka.
Cat: Rio, how did you get involved in this accessibility project?
Rio:You might be familiar with the 20 percent initiative at Google, which allows people like me to pursue projects that they’re passionate about for 20 percent of their workday. This is how I use my 20 percent time!
What motivated you to get involved?
Cat: I got a tiny glimpse of how inaccessible NYC is when I was on crutches and it made me much more aware of mothers maneuvering strollers, artists juggling large projects, people in wheelchairs, and others.
I saw a video with comedian Zach Anner that really quantified how inaccessible New York can be. He’s in a wheelchair, and it took him over 6 hours to get to a shop in Brooklyn that sells rainbow bagels. Getting around shouldn’t be this hard.
Rio: Have you tried it?
Cat: The rainbow bagel? Yes, mine had rainbow cream cheese and tasted like very dense funfetti cake! But no, I haven’t tried to take an accessible route to the shop.
What have you heard from people who use and add accessibility info on Google maps?
Rio: People email me to say they can’t get enough of adding accessibility information to places in their neighborhoods. What gets me excited is people who previously didn’t think this issue was important, but are now motivated to spend time on accessibility. The new Local Guides videos provide some powerful validation that this information is meaningful and useful.
Cat: What do you think Google can do better with accessibility information?
Rio: I think we’re just at the beginning of making the most of this data. Google Maps attempts to make sense of the real world, not just the software world. But the real world is messy, so making sense of it takes time and effort. I believe companies like Google shouldn’t be satisfied until they’ve solved much of the world’s accessibility information needs.
Cat, what motivates you to work on accessibility?
Cat: Honestly, people like you! Working at Google, it’s easy to sit back and think someone else will solve it. But seeing Googlers like you work with Local Guides and tackle this problem inspires me to do more.
Rio — you’re based in Boulder, which is a very active city. Are there any local initiatives focused on improving accessibility?
Rio: Before I even considered working on accessibility, I learned about this organization called Adaptive Sports. They make this great outdoor space accessible to everyone. Even if I feel like I’m doing something useful, they’re really making this world a better place.
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