Tag Archive for 'Accessibility'

Tab stop

Tab (242/366) by ChealionWhat if you search for directions from place A to place B while you are only able to use a keyboard as input and navigation device on websites?

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

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.

Microsoft Live Maps

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.

Us & them

BEV shopsWhile others are offering an API or are working on even free access to public geodata, we are releasing a new portal with 5 different shop versions for public tax funded geodata.

Let alone that the world record attempt for using the smallest possible font size in an unlucky Cheetah UI rip-off isn’t quite state of the art in the year 2008. Especially not in times were public agencies are asked (by law!) to fulfill basic WAI requirements.

Cynthia Says “no”

A discussion yesterday made me think of how you can possibly prepare a mapping site to fulfill WAI standards.

Naturally any map produced by a map server comes as image. So the focus on improving accessibility on a mapping site will be to make images better accessible. One step is to improve map graphics and visualization such as contrast, color saturation, color scheme, strokes, etc., something cartographers are well aware about.

In addition to graphic qualities, another WAI requirement is to provide text equivalents for any non-text element, such as images are. A descriptive list, containing the main map elements like places, roads, rivers, mountains, etc. or even a statistical layers could be given as alternative output easily from any map server I’d suppose.

A more advanced solution would be an intelligent textual map output. Not only listing map elements but describing topography, relations among map elements and thematic layers. As if you would give an interpretation of the map to somebody else.

A quick research regarding mapping and accessibility didn’t lead me to much information. Besides, every mapping site I tried, failed Cynthia really badly (even this simple text-based site btw, maybe I should switch templates).

I know, SVG always has been the next big thing and never really took off, but in terms of web accessibility and mapping it offers the important ‘desc’ element:

Each container element or graphics element in an SVG drawing can supply a ‘desc’ and/or a ‘title’ description string where the description is text-only.

The ‘desc’ element basically allows you to provide textual information attached to every map element and deploy that way an (hidden) alternative textual map in addition to every map image. Clearly a major advantage of SVG over raster graphics regarding web accessibility.

Google Textual Maps UI

Web accessibility is a big issue for public authorities’ IT services. Since eEurope 2002 every new developed web content must claim conformance to Conformance Level A, which means quite a challenge for public webmapping services.

Now Google has added text output to Google Maps too: depending on your search and how much textual information is available in your results, the map is becoming smaller in favor of more textual information. Searching for a place won’t give you any text information at all (how would you seriously describe the result of a place search?), while searching for directions results in 100% speech-friendly textual routing information. (via Official Google Blog)