Google Magnifier image
The Google Magnifier feature in action

Technology giant Google has announced new accessibility updates that will make accomplishing day-to-day tasks and activities easier and quicker, including getting walking directions, finding wheelchair-accessible locations, and enhanced camera zooming capabilities for people with vision impairments.

Below, AT Today has highlighted the updates that are relevant to the assistive technology sector.

Screen reader capabilities in Lens in Maps

Lens in Maps (formerly known as Search with Live View) uses AI and augmented reality to help people use their phone’s camera to orient themselves in unfamiliar environments and discover new places around them, such as restaurants.

Google’s latest update is making this more accessible and useful for people who are blind or visually impaired by bringing screen reader capabilities in Lens in Maps to iOS now. It has confirmed that the feature will be available on Android later this year.

Users simply tap the camera icon in the search bar and lift their phone. If the person’s screen reader is enabled, they will receive auditory feedback of the places around them with helpful information like the name and category of a place and how far away it is.

Accessible walking routes in Google Maps

Google is rolling out a feature so that people can get stair-free routes when they request walking directions in Maps. This feature will help wheelchair users as well as people travelling with items like luggage or using pushchairs.

The new feature builds on the wheelchair-accessible transit navigation option in Maps that shows users step-free transit routes.

To activate the feature, users simply tap the three dots at the top of the screen when they request walking directions and toggle “wheelchair-accessible” on under route options to receive stair-free directions. If the person has already selected the wheelchair-accessible option in their transit preferences, this will automatically be applied to all walking routes as well.

Wheelchair-accessible information is more widely available

Earlier this year, Google rolled out wheelchair-accessible places information on Google Maps for Android and iOS. Now, the firm has started making that information available to business and place pages on Maps for Android Auto and cars with Google built in, helping people travel with more confidence.

When the user searches for a place in Google Maps and clicks on it, a wheelchair icon will appear if the destination has a step-free entrance, accessible restrooms, parking, or seating.

A more accessible camera

Google’s Pixel smartphones have a Magnifier feature, where users can use their camera to zoom in on something, replicating what it would be like to use a physical magnifying glass.

This camera-based app, which was designed in collaboration with partners at the Royal National Institute of Blind People and National Federation of the Blind, is helpful for seeing things with detail up close, such as reading small text or sewing, viewing street signs at a distance, or zooming in on a concert stage.

The app can also improve the legibility of text with the ability to adjust controls, including colour filters, brightness, and contrast. Magnifier is available on Google Play for Pixel 5 and up, excluding the Pixel Fold.

View the Magnifier feature in action in the video below:

Earlier this month, Google also rolled out the newest version of Guided Frame, which uses a combination of audio cues, high-contrast animations, and haptic (tactile) feedback to make it easier for people who are blind or visually impaired to take selfies. With this update, Guided Frame now recognises more than just faces, so individuals can use their front and rear-facing camera to take photos of their pets, dinner, or documents. This update is already available on Pixel 8 and 8 Pro and will be rolling out to Pixel 6+ later this year.

Faster searching in the Chrome address bar

Earlier this year, Google introduced a new feature in the Chrome address bar that detects spelling mistakes and displays suggested websites based on what Chrome thinks the person meant. This will help people with dyslexia, language learners, or anyone who makes spelling mistakes get to the content they are looking for faster. Now, this feature is expanding to Chrome on Android and iOS.

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