Friday, 15 December 2006

GIS accessibility

By it's their nature, GIS (Geographical Information Systems) are normally inaccessible to those who can't see them, but many GIS systems are worse than that, and won't even allow keyboard-only or voice activated access, so problems can arise for those within a fairly broad spectrum of disabilities.

I've been collecting data for a while, and some time in the new year I'm going to try and compile my findings into something that the community may find useful.

At this stage I would like to give a hat tip to Mike Saunt from Astun Technology who has been exceptionally helpful. Mike has been working on presenting information in alternative ways to enhance usability and accessibilty of GIS systems. Mike's view is that GIS does not necessarily equate to inaccessible content There are plenty of options available to GIS developers to provide content that everyone can use.

Mike sent an example of his recent work with South Tyneside where information is displayed not only within a map, but also within a table (try typing NE33 2RL into the postcode search for an example).

Now at CDSM (where I work) we do a lot of web testing work which includes many web accessiblity audits with our partners the Shaw Trust. Consequently I get to look at a lot of GIS systems and would endorse this approach as the most accessible I've seen to date. I'd encourage those looking for a GIS solution (or Online Mapping as Mike prefers to call it) to talk to Astun Technologies to see what they can offer. It's very heartening to see companies like this leading the way to ensuring that GIS isn't just for sighted visitors.

18 comments:

Dan said...

Nice, I read about iShareMaps somewhere else today, but can't remember where. Presenting information in a tabular format is an excellent method of making specific point data on a map accessible.

The challenge we've yet to overcome is how to provide an alternative to geographic information which requires interpretation for it to be meaningful. For example how do you communicate which parts of a user-defined geographic area are potentially liable to flooding? Or that the most economically deprived area of a town is concentrated around a particular area?

It's possible where the data's static, and you can predict the questions the user wants to ask, but that's rarely going to be the case with open, user-controlled systems.

It's a fascinating area of development, watching with interest.

grant said...

Dan wrote:
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"For example how do you communicate which parts of a user-defined geographic area are potentially liable to flooding? Or that the most economically deprived area of a town is concentrated around a particular area?"
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I'm not sure that technology exists that would allow us to convey that sort of info in a way that can be detected by blind users (I believe that it's mainly blind users that will have a problem with GIS). You would have to devise a sytem with either audio or touch input/output. So it's likely to be alternatives like tables that are the solution for the time being at least?

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Geographical Information Systems (GIS) have been used widely in zoology and ecology, particularly in herpetology. The use of spatially explicit analysis has increased during the last decade, with the consequent expansion of GIS application in ecology.

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Amongst other things Australia Post uses GIS for routing and navigation, understanding how to reach rural areas, placing retail locations, and election planning.

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A GIS, in a nutshell, is a computer technology that uses geographic information as a basis for interpreting and managing data, solving a problem or a situation whether it was past, present or future.

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Geographic Information Systems (GIS) describe the topography and chronology of events in a defined vector space. GIS may also be used for an integrated analysis of environmental and road-related risk factors for traffic accidents.

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A geographic information system (GIS), or geographical information system, captures, stores, analyzes, manages, and presents data that is linked to location. In the strictest sense, the term describes any information system that integrates, stores, edits, analyzes, shares, and displays geographic information. In a more generic sense, GIS applications are tools that allow users to create interactive queries (user created searches), analyze spatial information, edit data, maps, and present the results of all these operations. They are faced with serving growing populations, with higher expectations of service, while coping with shrinking resources

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GIS gathers and analyzes important geographical information. It tells a story and can better prepare us for dangers that lie ahead.

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In the past two decades, these information technologies have had tremendous effects on research techniques specific to geography, as well as on the general ways in which scientists and scholars communicate and collaborate.

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At present, it is impossible to make graphic presentations of some types of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data directly accessible to those using text, speech or braille formats to access their PC and the Web. Some types of data simply can't be made directly accessible with the technologies currently available. Various research projects are investigating alternative methods of accessing information, for example the use of variable sound to convey information, or the use of "virtual reality" technologies to enable information to be explored using a range of senses including touch. But practical implementations of these methods and technologies are some way off.

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I'm not sure that technology exists that would allow us to convey that sort of info in a way that can be detected by blind users (I believe that it's mainly blind users that will have a problem with GIS). You would have to devise a sytem with either audio or touch input/output. So it's likely to be alternatives like tables that are the solution for the time being at least?

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Can GIS be used for detecting upcoming earthquakes or ground movements?

Anthoine said...

What excites me is its capability of providing geographic information without having to break your brain in translating the points.

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