Recently I've been designing maps without navigation tools like the Zoom In/Out and Pan tools, or arrows to pan north, pan west, etc.

Instead, most modern mapping APIs support the direct use of the map itself to handle navigation - drag the map to pan, double-click to zoom in, scroll the mouse wheel, shift-drag to zoom, etc.

Is there a set of standard accessibility guidelines for online maps?

Are there valid reasons for needing a "click to pan" control, or any of the other old-school navigation controls? For example, are they used by screen readers or other accessibility aids?

I note that Google Maps has a Pan control, even though it's not strictly necessary.

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  • Who really is a 'authority' to decide such a thing? Really what we do at my agency is look for a consistent look/feel and expose functions to match the concensus of tools. But we also present a conventional toolbar with the good old zoom-in/zoom-out/pan etc stuff since that is what legacy users look to; we will slowly phase those out.
    – D.E.Wright
    Sep 9 '11 at 1:53
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    w3.org could be said to have "authority" over accessibility guidelines for the web (you often hear of high-profile sites failing due to not meeting standards for vision impairment, etc). But how does this relate specifically to online maps? Sep 9 '11 at 2:00
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    my linux box is so old it doesn't have a wheel mouse! I would be stuck in pan or zoomed and unable to zoom out. I think most laptops would have some difficult navigation also.
    – Brad Nesom
    Sep 9 '11 at 3:55
  • When you click the middle of that panning circle toolbar you go back to the original map state. What mouse action have you defined for that if you do not show controls?
    – mrg
    Sep 9 '11 at 8:20
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    Bigger question; as you are looking at a map which is by nature a graphic UI; how to you address screen-reader users? The extent we look at usability and accessibility really depends on the user; there hardware and even there intuitiveness.
    – D.E.Wright
    Sep 9 '11 at 8:37

The W3C Research and Development Working Group discusses detailed guidlines in https://www.w3.org/WAI/RD/wiki/Accessible_Maps


The W3C standard that is most relevant is WCAG 2.0 AA. Essentially, it's a matter of evaluating if something is Perceivable, Operable, Understandable & Robust.

I really don't know how you'd be able to navigate a map without a keyboard (and there are a lot of users who don't use mice). You could possibly make the navigation appear when the focus is on the map. However, you'd also want to make sure that the map is operational.

I haven't heard of a common set of standards for map accessibility. I think right now the expectations are pretty low.

Screen reader users are one important case, but I think in the mapping world many people start there, decide it can't be done and move on. There are people with low vision, colour blindness, mobility chalenges, etc.

There is an interesting list in OpenStreet Map's Wiki.


Something to be mindful of is who the targeted audience is. Some users may not understand the map to pan control, whereas others may. The Flex API widgets/fonts are small and are not very easy to enlarge with a web browser. Here is an interesting article.

Trends in Web Mapping: It’s all about usability

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    But that is over 5 years old... I would like to think that there would be a more concensus document. Take into consideration of ESRI, Google, Bing, OSGeo, etc... Yes we need to get away from the old ArcIMS HTML Template view and get to a total Google'ish formula, but where is the common concensus...
    – D.E.Wright
    Sep 9 '11 at 8:35
  • interesting article - thanks. I love that Mapquest and Whereis are the examples of great maps! However, this seems like an opinion piece rather than official guidelines, so we're no closer to a consensus on what's required Sep 10 '11 at 5:54

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