Maps and Models
Maps are one of the most sophisticated graphics to try and design accessibly. There are plenty of reasons to try and make them accessible. Some elements are impossible to make accessible for blind individuals without printing a raised line or braille version or 3d model. I’ve yet to find an online map that truly works well in describing a map of a region. But story maps are a little different. The problem with north-south, east-west graphical orientation still exists, but often the information that is most essentials is still portrayed in a means that works even for screenreader users. Keyboard issues exist in altering the location on the screen, but one can still table around from demarked areas.
Story Map* generally add location markers, which trigger a sidebar graphic and text. One can usually tab through a series of numbered thumbnails, to this content.
The chief issue with maps is displaying important information and making one aware of the orientation geographically. But the orientation geographically cannot be perceived in a functional way to someone who is blind. Only 3d representations and models really work effectively for that purpose.
When marking up a regular map, you must make sure that the location markers link to content that describes the visual location. Say for instance you have a house located on Elm Street, three house from the cross street Main Street. The descriptor in order to be accessible must list such information, even if the sight don’t need that information. Most often Story maps will not include that information. The orientation to the map is of lesser importance than the information described.
Story Map Example
In the Story Map example above. There are five areas highlighted. 1 is the title of the story map, with a brief description. 2 is the navigation area. 3 shows the map markers. 4 Shows the thumbnails of the different markers showing an image and some text. And 5 shows the enlarged version of that image and the text. Both 2 and 3 are not reachable using a screenreader, but the information that is significant is contained in 4 and 5 which can be reached. Unless, of course, the orientation between the points is of issue, and usually it would not be in a course.
Different for Street Maps
This differs from street maps where the orientation is the objective. The whole point is to help someone know the location of the bank or so other place. When we use GPS systems, we don’t need to see the physical map to get to the location. We just need the street address, and the system vocalizes when to turn. With Story Maps the focus is the information about a location and not the navigational elements.
Some people believe that because Story Maps don’t provide orientation and navigation elements that they are inaccessible. However, I think that blind individuals would just like to know what information is going to be on the test, and orientation is not the type of question created by professors.
Were the orientation may be of consequence is in understand the changes of a map over time. This is clearly illustrated in the reconfiguration of Europe from the 19th to the twentieth century and for the movement of troops in a battle. The changes again can be illustrated using tactile graphics or 3d objects. Describing these types of changes orally may possible work, but for the most part changes over time are very difficult to describe without visuals to accompany them.
Even adding alt tags to the images of a series of maps that change over time is a difficult task. This Civil War era map (to the left), built with flash, provides ample visual information but does not convey the information accessibly. Each one of the tabs (located at the bottom) which show different data would have to have alt tags or descriptive text that provided the same information. Flash is notoriously inaccessible. It would be better to create a video and have a voice describe the changes ongoing on the map. That means these graphical changes are described, so that the visual changes can be understood orally. So keep that in mind when designing content using maps.
- Another type of story map is related to writing stories and mapping how that works. See Other Types of Story Maps.
Sample Story Resources