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New Google Maps accessibility feature isn't just helpful for people in wheelchairs

Google just rolled out a set of new accessibility features and updates aimed at making it easier for people with disabilities to use its products. When asking for directions on Google Maps, people can now request a wheelchair-friendly walking route. If data is available, Google will pick a path that doesn't, for example, include stairs along the way. The feature builds on earlier work to identify locations with wheelchair-accessible entrances, which are indicated with a wheelchair icon. Businesses can now also display whether they're disabled-owned.

For people with visual impairments, Google has added a native magnifying app, for which it collaborated with the Royal National Institute of Blind People and the National Federation of the Blind. In what appears to be a somewhat enhanced version of Apple's built-in iOS magnifier app, Google uses a phone's camera to zoom in on small text, tiny objects or hard-to-read details further away, like a street sign or a wall-mounted menu in a restaurant.

The app automatically adjusts brightness in low-light environments, and users can apply filters and other visual effects to make low-contrast text more legible. Google's Magnifier app is currently only available for select Pixel phones; no word yet on whether the feature will be rolled out to other Android phones.

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Making products more accessible to people with disabilities is imperative. But those features might benefit others, too. Wheelchair-friendly routes are also stroller-friendly. A powerful magnifying app doesn't just assist people diagnosed with low vision but can help out older folks who don't have their glasses at hand.

That's the beauty of universal design: it dismantles hurdles for some while elevating usability for all, irrespective of their ability status. Feeling inspired to rethink your existing offerings through the lens of accessibility, or launch new services innately designed to be inclusive? Check out our free OMNIBILITY trend briefing for more examples and tips.