Making access maps accessible

Screenshot of Seattle Access Map.
Screenshot Seattle Access Map

Many people use Google Maps and similar apps to help them navigate the built environment. They focus on road networks and points of interest but lack information for pedestrians. Google has an option to list individual “accessible places” such as a park. But this is of little use to someone with vision impairment. So how to make access maps accessible?

There are two key accessibility issues. One is collecting and integrating access information into maps. The other is designing digital maps so they are accessible to users with diverse physical, sensory and cognitive abilities. There is a third issue. Some local governments have an access or mobility map, but these are often buried on a website somewhere. Many people don’t know they exist. 

A group of researchers set up a special interest group of academics and practitioners to find technical ways to make access maps accessible to a wide range of users. Their initial findings is that technology is gradually solving issues for people with vision impairment and limited dexterity. However, cognition, language and literacy lag behind.

Their conference paper has more detail about the challenges faced in designing and creating digital accessible access maps. The title of the conference paper is Grand Challenges in Accessible Maps published on the ACM website.

New Mobility Technology

Briometrix is creating “Effort-based Mobility Maps” with an emphasis on active travel for wheelchair users. The maps display colour coded footpath routes indicating the degree of difficulty for wheelchair users. It also covers parklands and transport and links between. 

Two white shoes, a smartphone and the directional device. Honda is developing a wayfinding device for people with vision impairment. The Ashirase system links a 3D shoe-mounted vibration device and a smartphone app.

As the wearer walks, the smartphone app indicates direction by causing different parts of the device to vibrate. The front means go straight, left and right for turning, and when it isThe device shown on a model foot. time to stop. The Honda webpage has more detail and a video.