Google Maps: Is It Accessible?
For many, Google Maps is a useful tool for figuring out how to get around. Therefore, the website must be accessible. While Google Maps is accessible in certain ways, the site is inaccessible in several others.
Perhaps the most pressing Google Maps accessibility issue is that the web version is not accessible to screen reader users. Aaron Cannon, Lead Accessibility Engineer at Accessible360 and a screen reader user, feels that the Google Maps team has not done much to improve accessibility on the site (e.g., screen readers cannot read driving/walking directions) and could improve labeling (e.g., add headings).
However, the Google Maps app is more accessible to screen reader users. Cannon says that VoiceOver, the iPhone screen reader, is especially useful for getting directions. Accessible360 auditor David Sexton also uses VoiceOver on the Google Maps app for directions. However, Sexton said that Apple Maps is more accessible for navigation since Apple Maps has navigational features that Google Maps does not
After entering the web version of Google Maps, the cursor is automatically placed in the box where users can type in the name of a specific place or their addresses. After doing this, Google Maps will display a map of where that place is located and the surrounding area.
When users press Shift+Tab five times, the center of the map will be highlighted with a square (this can also be done by pressing just Tab, but it takes forever!). Users can then use the arrow keys to move the map on the screen. Press ? (you have to press the Shift key as well) after entering Google Maps for a full list of keyboard shortcuts.
Although it’s good that users can navigate Google Maps with only a keyboard, it is difficult to know how to do so and is cumbersome. Google Maps should make this process easier and clearer. One suggestion would be for Google Maps to change the code so the center of the map would be highlighted without having to tab through the site.
Another accessibility problem with Google Maps is that many keyboard shortcuts require users to press three keys simultaneously (e.g., Ctrl+Shift+1). This is tough for everyone, especially people who do not have the use of both hands. Two-key shortcuts can be tough as well. It would be nice if Google Maps could change some of its shortcuts so users would need to press just one key.
While Google Maps is OK in terms of accessibility, the site has a long way to go. In particular, the web version of Google Maps is inaccessible to screen reader users. This must be changed, as people who use screen readers need to have the same access as people who do not use screen readers.
For more on Google Maps accessibility features for computers, Androids, iPhones and iPads: