Navigating public transit can be confusing at the best of times, but for people with physical impairments or anxiety-related mental health struggles it can be even more challenging. Our goal for this project was to create accessibility features within Google Maps to better support these groups.


Inclusive design
Course project


Claire Niemeier
Elissa Carpio
Priyanka Gupta


Oct - Nov 2023



As part of our Inclusive Design course, two classmates and I teamed up to explore ways of expanding accessibility in Google Maps. To make the most of our tight project timeline, we utilized the Google Ventures’ Design Sprint method, modifying it to fit the project requirements. This structure helped us to iteratively cycle through individual work to generate ideas, and group work/meetings to synthesize and decide our direction together.


Our project aimed to provide customizable accessibility solutions for a broad audience of Google Maps users, but given the time constraints, we chose to focus specifically on three user segments:

  1. people with motor impairments (permanent, temporary, and situational)

  2. people with cognitive impairments (such as Autism Spectrum Disorder and Down’s Syndrome)

  3. people with mental health challenges (specifically anxiety-related mental illnesses)


We asked ChatGPT to generate several user personas based on our target audience segments, specifically asking for a diverse range of demographics, behaviors, goals, etc.

We then used those results as the basis for our final personas, modifying and adding elements to better illustrate the impacts of the challenges faced by our target users.

Interviews & Mapping

To gather user data we conducted four interviews. We took a convenience sample that included a mother with anxiety traveling with young kids, a retiree with short-term memory loss, as well people adjacent to users with disabilities: a special needs school aide and a mother of a son with severe autism.

During the interviews we documented key quotes and generated “How Might We...” questions to frame specific problems and generate design ideas.


We created an affinity diagram to group and analyze the “How Might We...” questions from the interviews. Framing the overarching themes as “I...” statements helped us synthesize what our interviewees were looking for:

  1. I want to know exactly what to expect so that I can prepare myself mentally and avoid sensory overwhelm from environmental stimuli.

  2. I want to see wall the important information in one clear, simple view.

  3. I want the clear steps in the app to match the wold around me so that I know where I’m going.

  4. I want my app to accommodate how I process info.

  5. I want the app to be customized to my needs.

  6. I want support in location sharing and emergency contacts (without extra steps) to alleviate anxiety.

  7. I want to feel confident and in control when traveling, even with unexpected disruptions in my route.

  8. I want to plan ahead and be fully prepared for my travel in order to reduce stress.


Following the Design Sprint process, we created individual user maps for three specific personas and then distilled those down into one simplified, combined user map which lays out the process of navigating public transit. We mapped specific insights from our affinity diagram onto the flow to help us identify key aspects to focus on in the ideation phase.

Inspiration & Sketching


To switch gears and put us in a solutions-oriented mindset, we each collected existing ideas from across various platforms and industries that we felt could inspire solutions or features for our own project. We talked through them in Lightening Demos, explaining the aspects that we found most compelling or useful.


After reviewing our affinity diagram and user map, we followed the Sprint method of Crazy 8s sketching (eight sketches in eight minutes) to generate rapid ideas that addressed problem areas.

We then discussed those ideas as a team and used sticker voting to decide which features/design ideas to move forward with. Some of our ideas included:

  1. visual illustration of metro train and platform, including where to stand to easily board cars with accessible wheelchair/stroller spots

  2. collapsable instructions that simplify the amount of information seen at once

  3. indicators for busyness, sound levels, and other sensory stimuli on busses and trains

  4. saved routes (not just destinations) for users who rely on routines

  5. animated characters that indicate where to go

  6. preset emergency contacts or support people who can be easily reached if needed

Mid-Fidelity Screens

We each took several ideas from our sketches and created mid-fidelity screens. We came back together as a team to discuss the designs, discarding, modifying, or combining ideas to create cohesive  flows. We went through several iterations before moving on to high-fidelity.


High-Fidelity Prototype


Google Maps currently allows for saved destinations, but our proposed solution would remember specific routes, supporting users with autism or anxiety who rely heavily on familiar routes and routines, as well as other users who simply prefer certain routes, even if they are not the fastest option. The user is notified when there is a delay along their saved route, and given the option of continuing with that route anyway, or selecting another route option.


Our design also provides a vertical progress bar on the map screen which reassures users who experience anxiety as they travel, without overloading them with information. This gives them an increased sense of control and security.


Our solution also includes step by step accessibility information for each stage of the journey, as well as real time information about open wheelchair spots on buses and trains. This information is conveyed visually alongside the user’s location icon so that they can easily know where to board.


Another new feature is a lifesaver icon which allows the user to notify three preset contacts with their shared location if they become overwhelmed or need help. They can also notify 911 immediately without leaving the app in case of an emergency.