Inclusive Maps is a project communicating the idea that there are no maps that fit the needs of every user. It is the task of empathetic creators to fill this gap and create maps that are meaningful for persons that don't make a lot of use of existing maps.
Inclusive Maps provides a conceptual framework for designers, developers and social scientists that want to create maps for different groups of people, especially for persons with impairments.
The project was created by Ute Benz, Sylvia Kautz and Sebastian Rauer as a potential contribution to the Microsoft Research and Design Expo 2015 within a course at the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam.
Maps represent our view of the world
When we look at maps, we normally don’t think much about how and by whom maps as representations of our world are created. Maps are never objective. They show us how their creators see the world or that a group of people consent on a certain representation of what our world actually consists of.
A good example is the overview of Germany on Google Maps. The first thing you see are the names of the biggest cities and thick orange lines that represent motorways (“Autobahnen”). This circumstance tells us a lot about by whom and for whom this map is created. Big cities and how you can reach them by car seems to be of great importance in a modern country. Cars can only be driven by people of a certain age and above a certain income. You also have to be of a certain bodily ability to drive a car.
As there are no objective maps, we don’t believe that there can be a map that caters all the needs of all humans out there. We see the solution in different visualisations for different needs that can even be combined to achieve a truly useful map.
What we aim to achieve is not to create distinct maps as artifacts ourselves, but to propose a system that can be used as a reference to create inclusive maps.
Our system consists of three steps:
Existing input possibilities too complicated (coding knowledge needed)
What kind of tools can you provide that help users to add new data to an existing framework?
What has to be done to bring the data into a useful form?
Existing solutions are often made by OSM/Open Data Developers who have no knowledge concerning usability and design paradigms.
Resulting in no ease or joy of use
How can the user access the data?
To illustrate our idea, there will be three cases of inclusive maps in the following.
Each shows different steps (Data Source, Data Input/Processing, Data Output) of our systematic model.
Map for wheelchair users
The most obvious example probably are paraplegic people. Especially for those who use manually propelled wheelchairs it’s fairly important that the floor on the way is well maintained.
Unfortunately, pavements, which are the parts of the street that owners of manually propelled wheelchairs mainly use, are often not as well maintained as the main part of the streets which are used by cars. They are often paved with old and uneven tiles or blocks or the paving is simply broken down.
For a few cities – one of them Surrey in British Columbia, Canada – there’s already a database on pavement quality. It’s just not used to provide valuable information for wheelchair users or other groups of people that have to consider floor quality on their way through the cities, like old people with walking frames or parents with strollers.
As the quality of paving can quickly change and government data alone simply can not provide truly up-to-date information, there has to be an easy way to input new data into the database as you are on your way.
We think a map visualisation on your smartphone or tablet with an addition like a very simple button that let’s you state if the pavement you are currently on is “fine” or “flawed”.
That way, users who want to contribute to the community can do so without spending a lot of time and without coding or database knowledge .
Pavements of Surrey
Allergy sensitive map
Subjective maps not only help people with disabilities, but also with common “impairments” like serious allergies.
The most common allergy – allergy against tree and grass pollen – can be a serious impairment during spring and summer, to the point where affected people can’t leave the house.
In this case we think about a map that uses governmental data on tree positions and types. The idea is however not to show all the trees that could be hazardous for the user, but to give the user the possibility to specify his allergies and based on that show them the ways and places he can go without being overly affected by the consequences of his allergy.
Birch Tree Pollen in Melbourne
The birch tree shows no significant signs of pollen activity in February.
People who tend to have allergic reaction against the pollen of birch trees can safely travel all around Melbourne.
The birch tree shows some signs of pollen activity in March.
People who tend to have allergic reaction against the pollen of birch trees can still quite safely travel around Melbourne.
The birch tree shows many signs of pollen activity in April.
People who tend to have allergic reaction against the pollen of birch trees should be aware of certain areas.
The birch tree shows significant signs of pollen activity in May.
People who tend to have allergic reaction against the pollen of birch trees avoid the depicted areas.
The birch tree still shows some signs of pollen activity in June.
People who tend to have allergic reaction against the pollen of birch trees can now enter certain areas again.
Maps for the visually impaired
Visually impaired people have very diverse needs regarding their environment.
To make sure everyone reaches their destination and has as few problems on their journey as possible, we must take a deeper look on what has to be emphasized in an adapted representation of the environment.
When it comes to travel routine, the habits of visually impaired persons can be very diverse. They may have human guides, a white cane, a guide dog or no aid at all. Many pedestrians who are visually impaired or blind have received orientation and mobility training.
An important part for the visually impaired walking around the city can be using the orientation system on the ground by scanning it with a white cane, or traffic lights for pedestrians that emit an acoustic signal if the street can be crossed.
While there is already data for traffic lights with acoustic feature for most cities, the orientation systems on the ground are not yet mapped.
The main question when solving this problem thus has to be how the orientation system could be mapped with governmental data or by the users themselves. Could even sensors be used for the exact mapping of the orientational tiles on the ground?
A next step would be to combine the gained data about the orientation system with the already existing data set of the traffic lights with acoustic signals.
The big question in this case, too, is of course what form of output of all of these data could be generated. Seemingly, the voice-over feature of Google Maps functions very well for visually impaired people.
It might be possible to incorporate the generated data meaningfully into the framework of Google Maps so that there can be acoustic information about traffic lights and orientation systems via headphones in addition to the standard navigational functionality.