Accessible Google Maps

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2007 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.
Also posted on: Accessibility

Google Maps have some features hidden in them that make them more accessible than you may think. The problem is that you have to find them out by accident or word of mouth.

I found out about my latest example by reading a short entry in AbilityNet’s newsletter written by Robin Christopherson. He told me that he found out about it by listening to one of the many podcasts he listens to whilst doing the washing up. I have not found out how the podcaster found out. But what is certain is that going to help on Google Maps or even googling ‘google map accessibility’ did not tell me about it.

As I have said in various other articles ‘accessibility has to be accessible’ see /business/compliance/content.php?cid=8917. Amongst other things this means that help functions should give information on accessibility. If any of my readers can suggest a suitable contact in Google I will explain this important fact to them directly.

So after that preamble rant what did I find out? Just that you can ask Google Maps to give you directions in text only without including the maps. This is an advantage to Robin, who is blind, as the maps are an unnecessary and confusing overhead for him. It can also be useful if you have a slow speed link or a small format device.

Robin’s article told me to use the ‘output=html’ tells the system just to use plain html. If you then enter something like ‘buckingham palace to tate modern’ it will find the directions, by road, between these two major London tourist attractions. Well, it should do but it does not quite work, mainly because Google assumes by default that you are in New York.

So having found this neat feature of Google Maps I have found I can improve on Robin’s suggestion in two ways:

  • Use Google Maps UK by using .
  • Give a slightly better request by using ‘from:’ and ‘to:’, note the colons. So ‘from: buckingham palace to: tate modern’ does the trick.

To and from are obvious query tags but there are others such as ‘in’ or ‘near’ and there maybe others that I have not yet discovered. If my readers know of others please let me know, or maybe Google could be more explicit.

By the way Google Maps also includes more keyboard navigation than it tells you about so letting you put the mouse aside for most things.

When you are in Google Maps try page up, page down, the cursor keys, the scroll wheel with and without the cntrl, alt, apple and window keys. Google help suggests there are more of these keyboard shortcuts but again I cannot find out what they are.

One oddity of the scroll wheel is that when it is used to zoom it centres the zoom around where the mouse cursor happens to be rather than the current centre of the map, this is just disconcerting and counter-intuitive.

Finally, a request for an extension to Google Maps to include walking routes. My sat-nav can already give me walking routes and then includes footpaths and footbridges where appropriate. A walk from Buckingham Palace to Tate Modern would be considerably shorter as there are a couple of useful footbridges across the Thames!

If this article does nothing else it will mean the next time someone googles ‘accessible google map’ they will get a hit.