The Lincoln Center campus is a magical place, but it can be difficult to navigate the many buildings and concert halls spanning from 60th Street to 66th Street. Difficulties navigating the campus can be amplified for people with disabilities who require accessible entryways and elevators. In my time as the Digital Accessibility Fellow one of the most frequent reasons that guests would call the Access Line is to inquire about accessible entrances and features of the buildings that they are visiting. The only place this information is listed is in the campus map of the Accessibility at Lincoln Center Guidebook. Through answering questions from guests about the campus I saw a need for easier access to this kind of information.
I decided on creating an interactive map for the web as that is the most common way for people to use maps. It has a number of advantages such as being share-able, viewable from anywhere, and can incorporate digital assistive technology. Using the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as a framework to measure success in terms of accessibility I worked to improve campus accessibility by developing an interactive campus accessibility as my capstone project for my Digital Accessibility Fellowship at LCPA.
Using screen based maps are inherently inaccessible as the medium relies on sight to navigate, but there are programmatic ways to make the information more accessible. I used the Google Maps API to create a custom map of the Lincoln Center campus and placed markers of the accessible entrances and elevators around the campus. A benefit of using Google's API is that it incorporates Google’s ecosystem of services to display information about public transportation, nearby restaurants, and the ability to zoom in and out that one expects from an online map.
A Google Map was a step forward from the print version of the map, but through extensive research into accessible maps I learned that is not enough. Thomas Logan from Equal Entry wrote an article about Accessible Maps on the Web and how interactive maps can be improved for accessibility. In his article he illustrates how Google Maps is not natively accessible, but through additional programming it can be improved.
Google Maps by default has limited keyboard accessibility, which is important for individuals with limited mobility or who are blind. This is an example of a WCAG failure 2.1.1 where they outline that “All functionality of the content is operable through a keyboard interface.” With additional programming guests can navigate to the accessible features found on the Lincoln Center Campus.
Another issue that the interactive access map aims to solve is the ability for a text only view of the accessibility features at Lincoln Center. Because of the dense amount of information on the map, I included a toggleable table about that displays the feature and building location of accessible entrances, ramps, and elevators. This allows people using screen readers to skip directly to a convenient list of accessible features on campus. This also addresses WCAG G92 technique which provides a text alternative to non-text content.
An unexpected challenge rose while labelling the features on the map. Many of the buildings around the campus have numerous entrances, elevators, and other features. Sighted map users can use visual cues to orient themselves based on context, such as the David Rubenstein Atrium entrance on Broadway. However, unsighted map users don’t have access to this context as screen readers rely on explicit instruction. To provide some context, while keeping the labels succinct, I chose to label the features with cardinal directions for context, i.e. the East David Rubenstein Atrium Entrance.
With my prototype of an interactive campus map I was able to explore new ways of presenting a campus accessibility map. Finding the right verbiage to explain where an accessible entrance using text only was one of the challenges, but my experience trying to explain over the phone certainly helped. In the end I that this project demonstrates possible ways that an institution can implement accessible digital maps to help individuals with disabilities to navigate.
I would like to thank Thomas Logan for his research into accessible interactive maps, it was an invaluable resource to take lessons from a city access map and applying it to the campus level. I would also like to thank the Access Team at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts for allowing me to research and do this project. As I reach the end of my Digital Accessibility Fellowship I look forward to seeing how emerging technologies will be used to make spaces more equitable and accessible.