Web maps for everyone: Why you should be paying attention to accessibility
In our daily lives there are things that many of us take for granted, and may not always be available to everyone. Accessibility has become a top-of-mind topic for businesses, government agencies, and developers of technology in recent years – particularly as modern society finds new ways to be more inclusive.
What does accessibility mean on the web?
First published in 1999, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a set of principles -- determined by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) -- that lay out how to best make web offerings (including web maps) accessible to everyone, regardless of their level of ability. This means providing alternatives to audio and visual content, providing clear and varying navigation options, and ensuring you are not relying on color and graphics alone.
Accessibility in practice
Many jurisdictions and organizations are legally requiring accessibility support for web offerings; as technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace, historic exemptions for web mapping are being eliminated. The Government of Canada has detailed standards on web accessibility, which require all web offerings available externally and internally to conform to the requirements of WCAG 2.0. The Province of Ontario was the first Canadian province to pass a law that improves accessibility in areas that impact the daily lives of people with disabilities.
In January 2017, the United States updated Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 with a new rule that adopts many of WCAG's success criteria. These Section 508 Standards apply to electronic and information technology that is developed, procured, maintained or used by federal agencies, and contain technical criteria specific to various types of technologies.
Additionally, regulators in the United Kingdom, European Union, Australia and Israel require government web offerings to conform to WCAG standards, and we only expect more federal and regional governments around the world to follow suit.
What should you do?
Not only are accessible web offerings mandated in many regions, it’s simply the right thing to do. No group should be excluded from leveraging the amazing power that mapping technology offers.
But how do you do it? Here are a few things to consider as you get started:
- Screen Readers: Screen readers dictate the user interface (UI) text aloud, allowing users to listen to the page instead of reading it. This is an important consideration for serving end-users with limited visibility.
- Keyboard Navigation: Keyboard shortcuts allow end-users to interact with applications using a keyboard instead of a mouse. For many of us, using a mouse is a natural skill, but for end-users with limited motor skills it can be prohibitive.
- High-Contrast Visualization: Color should not be used as the only visual means of conveying information, indicating an action, prompting a response, or distinguishing a visual element.
At Latitude Geographics we’ve been developing out-of-the-box accessibility capabilities since 2015. If you’d like to learn how our Geocortex Essentials product can help you meet your requirements, or would like some help clearing up confusion around existing and emerging regulations, please get in touch.
In January we hosted a 30-minute webinar about accessibility; if you're interested in diving into this topic in-depth you can find the webinar recording here.