Making Maps Accessible
4/29/2019 11:15:01 AM
It’s never been easier to create accessible content. There are abundant tools and training resources on creating accessible documents and web pages. Maps have been another story. Maps typically are loaded with lines, dots, icons, shadings, and other elements to draw the viewer’s eye. Yet the occasional map creator could not readily find resources on how to make digital maps accessible. Until now.
Several years ago, a few state employees with cartography and geographic information systems (GIS) training got together and asked themselves the question: what makes a good map? And how can we make them accessible?
The team solicited input from a wide range of map designers, creators, and accessibility experts. After much wrangling, the team decided on two broad categories of maps: static and interactive.
While each category has unique considerations, the team also determined that there were basic guidelines that all map designers should follow. They combined two areas of specialized knowledge, digital accessibility and cartography, to create a set of guidelines for map design. They intended the resulting Map Design Guide document to be a “working document” as more map experts explore the concept of accessibility in maps.
This guide is particularly valuable because many map creators do not have formal map or cartography training. They may be graphic designers, GIS specialists, or administrative staff who have been asked to quickly create a map. Until now, there was no one source that combined guidance on both maps and accessibility. This design guide brings accessibility to the forefront. The static and interactive map teams referenced the Design Guide in their work.
The design guide starts by defining what makes up a map, including, at minimum:
The design guide then provides detail on how to best work with map components to make them accessible, including:
Learn more about accessible map design by reading the Map Design Guide (PDF).
Static maps are typically in a fixed format such as a PDF document or a web page. The static map team started by recognizing that it may not be possible to make such a map fully accessible. So, they developed a list of best practices of how to combine maps with additional information such as a data table or narrative.
First the team provided a set of recommendations that make a map easier to understand, such as:
Then the team developed several typical design scenarios. Static map creators can then adopt the scenario that makes the best sense for their particular map:
Delve into this topic by reading the Static Map Accessibility Guide (PDF).
In addition, what use is a well-designed map if the document is not accessible? Since many static maps are presented within the PDF format the static map team supplemented the static map guide with a /mnit/assets/map-tagging-acrobat-professional_tcm38-382613.pdfQuick Guide to Tagging PDFs (PDF).
With an interactive map, a user can interact with the map typically using a mouse and/or keyboard to select areas, enter coordinates, toggle layers, zoom in and out, and pan around the map. The team recognized that while each map has its own unique set of requirements, there are a few core recommendations when designing and developing an interactive map:
In addition to the detailed guides, the map team also created a series of Quick Cards. State of Minnesota employees can obtain from their Accessibility Coordinators laminated copies of the quick cards. Anyone can also download accessible PDF versions from the Map page on the Office of Accessibility website.
Would you like to learn more about the accessibility work being done by Minnesota IT Services and the State of Minnesota? Once a month we will bring you more tips, articles, and ways to learn more about digital accessibility.