MAIN_web, an Austrian initiative for media accessibility, asked to try and navigate the web only by using the tab key. I tried to get directions on three popular mapping sites: Google, Microsoft Live Maps and Mapquest. That’s how it went…
Google Maps initially focuses on the search bar and you can start typing the search query right away. Use “to” between both addresses and Google reads it as search for directions between 2 places. No tab yet needed (“enter” triggered the search) to get the first results. Unfortunately there are more options for one of both places and Google suggested some alternative addresses. Hoping down to the right suggestion took about 33 tabs. After that, the right directions showed up on the map, together with textual descriptions beside. The problem then was that it’s not possible to look up detailed views of the route only by navigating with the keyboard though.
The site doesn’t focus on the search bar. It takes 9 tabs to reach the point where you can start typing the search query. The search engine didn’t understand “to” as search for directions, so I had to enable direction search first: 7 more tabs. From there you hop 19 tabs around the page to access the “start” field and one more to enter the “end” address. One address wasn’t found immediately, but the suggested correct address was only 4 tabs away. As before, the result page shows the route on the map and descriptions, but it’s not possible to access further or more detailed information on certain route items by only using the keyboard.
Mapquest puts the focus on the search bar. For directions you have to use the form below on the page: 5 tabs away before you can start typing start and end locations in different form fields. As before, one address wasn’t unique and Mapquest offers several suggestions. Unfortunately there’s no way to access those by using the keyboard only, the page sends you around in circles in the header area. So no directions from Mapquest at all.
It’s an interesting experiment and gives a feeling about web accessibility. I checked some other (own) mapping sites too and I guess there are some things we should look into. At least the main information or purpose of a site should be accessible that way.