For years, Google Maps has been the predominant navigational tool. Since Google Maps (and maps generally) are visual by nature, they are usually difficult to navigate from an accessibility perspective, specifically for native screen readers or other visually impaired users. For brands and organizations worldwide, Google Maps is widely leveraged for maps that point to locations, offices, or additional directional guidance.
The challenge with leveraging this visually rich content generally comes into play when the same brands prioritize WCAG Compliance for their website or digital properties. Most design and development teams do not control the full compliance of Google Maps. However, you can do a few things to mitigate legal risk by including a Google Map function on your website. Let’s dive into these specific elements based on our experience working with diverse clients and digital platforms.
Provide a Text Equivalent
The most simplistic form of providing equitable access to map data is providing an alternative and alternate means of accessing the information. For starters, ensure that there is a text-only version of the exact instructions presented in the map in addition to the map itself. Doing this will ensure that screen reader (and other) users can access the map’s instructions without being required to engage with the map function as the only means of communication. For example, perhaps your team provides a Google Map highlighting your office or store location. In this scenario, ensure this page has a text list of locations. Ensure the list is complete, shares the same data as the map, and is understandable. Ideally, all users will reach the text list of locations before reaching the Google Map. Ultimately, your team should verify the map is not required to find location information.
Inform Users the Map Exists:
WCAG Compliance, and usability, for that matter, are not one-size-fits-all. This is why there is often no solution for providing a compliance experience. Keeping true to this, it is undoubtedly the business case for most organizations to leverage Google Maps for a host of functions on their website. When it is impossible to provide this in an accessible format, your team should, at a minimum, call out to users visiting with disabilities that the map does exist. On all pages that contain a map, screen reader users should be notified programmatically that there is map content on the page. We also strongly recommend adding screen-reader-only text that explains the map is inaccessible. For clients whose sites we audit where this scenario is accurate, we provide a reasonably simplistic code sample that helps them implement an easy fix to solve this issue.
Type Out Directions
Google Maps is, by default, heavily used to provide or display a route to a map location. We recommend simply providing textual turn-by-turn directions near the map in HTML when this is intended. This allows a user hitting access barriers with the map itself to obtain the information still as needed. We also believe this makes the statement that an accessible experience is an excellent experience for all! Providing a text format of the directions could allow any user an easier experience locating or sharing directions to your location, whether they copy and paste that into their phone notes or text it to a family member looking for directions to your location.
Offer Assistance When Needed
Mention in your company’s website accessibility statement (make sure you have one!) that the site uses Google Maps and warn users that the maps are not accessible to people with disabilities. Include a statement that although the map is not accessible, all the location information provided by the map is accessible and provided alongside the map. Aside from this information, as with any strong accessibility statement, give a user hitting access barriers a simple and easy way to reach out via phone or email for the support they need!
We’re here to help!
We have encountered many websites using Google Maps along with various integrations via their API or plug-ins, so don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions you may have! Also, check out the Google Maps accessibility page for more information on the tool’s accessibility features.