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.