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4 Tips for Accessible Branded Experiences, Inspired by Google’s Transit Updates

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Google is making transit a little easier for wheelchair users in major cities across the globe. How can this move inspire how you think about the experiences you create?

Earlier this month, Google Maps added a crucial update to its transit maps for six major cities: the ability to isolate wheelchair accessible routes. For travelers seeking out routes that could accommodate their need for elevators, easy entrance on buses and trains, and reliable curb cuts, these insights are invaluable. Currently, the routes are available for Boston, London, Mexico City, New York City, Sydney, and Tokyo, but Google isn’t stopping there.

“We’re looking forward to working with additional transit agencies in the coming months to bring more wheelchair accessible routes to Google Maps,” Maps product manager Rio Akasaka said in the feature announcement.

Why should this announcement matter to marketers? As customers pivot toward experiences as a way to spend their time, energy, and money, branded experiences will have an opportunity to captivate users and prospective consumers. Some of those consumers will need accommodations and instructions like those with Google’s wheelchair accessible routes will provide. As you plan your next talk, installation, or event, here are a few tips to ensure that the final product is accessible to as many people as possible.

Proactively mention accessibility details in pre-event communications.

For many organizations, the default means to ensure that attendees have reasonable accommodation for accessibility is to list a contact where those in need can get in touch. This is a viable strategy, but it places the burden of identifying the need on the individual. A more welcoming touch is to preemptively mention key points of accessibility when a participant confirms.

Include a labeled link for these instructions if your city has them. Link to a parking map where wheelchair accessible parking is clearly marked. If elevators or a wheelchair lift are present at the venue, say so. Even if you’re never contacted for additional accommodations, you’re demonstrating attention to the issue- and participants at all levels of ability can appreciate that.

Appoint someone to monitor transit conditions day of, sharing information on delays or construction as needed.

In acknowledging Google’s announcement of the new feature, London advocacy group Transport for All voiced an important caveat: “the success of this new […] option will depend on accurate data to prevent disabled people from being stranded on the network by broken lifts or inaccessible routes.”

They’re absolutely correct. A sign for an out of order elevator (or lift, in London and Sydney) may escape our consciousness if our mobility doesn’t depend on it. But for an attendee hoping for a smooth commute, these inconveniences are actually far more serious. Pay attention to the state of transit routes in the days leading up to your event or experience. If things change (e.g. an elevator is taken out of service, a parking lot is being repaved), let your attendees know in advance, providing alternatives when possible. These attentive touches will help more people than you know, and endear people to you and your brand as a result.

Don’t rely on ridesharing to fill the gap.

The advent of ridesharing has, for some cities, slowed the progress on accessibility for public transit. For example, Boston announced earlier this year that it would be collaborating with Uber and Lyft to supplement existing services for accessible rides. However, assuming that companies like Uber or Lyft are sufficiently equipped to fill this gap is a nice idea, but a dangerous assumption—even in major cities.

In a report released late last year, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest revealed that despite advertising the capacity to accommodate riders in wheelchairs, these vehicles (called WAVs by the companies) were unavailable 70% of the time for rideshare users in New York. When they were available, wait times were considerably longer than they would be for non-accessible vehicles. And not a single accessible vehicle was available at NYC’s two major airports. What does all of this mean? Where possible, acknowledge the fact that there will need to be more options available to your experience, conference, or event participants. Consult with local agencies on how to best address this need, and make this information easy to locate once it’s collected.

Use this cue to make other elements of your event—location, setup, even menu—accessible.

Google recognizes that getting to a venue is only one part of making an event or experience accessible. What good does it do a wheelchair user to have a smooth ride to an event only to realize that there’s not a curb cut to the entrance, or that the space between set tables is too narrow for her to easily navigate the aisles? The company has filled in some of those gaps with the help of Local Guides, who “gathered at 200 meet-ups around the world to answer accessibility questions – like whether a place has a step-free entrance or an accessible restroom – for more than 12 million places.”

It’s worthwhile for you and your teams to ask similar questions of the experience you’re creating. How can someone who uses a wheelchair easily enter and exit the building? Will the setup be easy for them to traverse? Remember, many of these thoughts are useful not just for wheelchair users, but also for individuals with limited mobility, with temporary injuries or impairments, or even attendees using strollers to bring along children. These thoughts can even impact a menu: are food allergies and intolerances considered? Access can mean a number of things, and your attention to making an event an enjoyable and worry-free experience for as many people as possible can impact how they see you and your brand long-term.

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