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I gave a presentation today on how we can create web mapping applications that address accessibility guidelines.  I’m not sure if I can share the slides, as they are EC branded…but I think I can share the transcript of the presentation to anyone who is interested:

Slide: Title

Web Mapping Accessibility and CLF 2.0

Alecia Fowler

Environment Canada

February 2011

Slide: Introduction

During this presentation I will discuss what steps we can take to create accessible web mapping applications.  I’ll talk about why it is not a clear cut case and where the grey areas are.  We have been able to identify some solutions but there are still gaps so please feel free to ask questions or bring up any ideas.

Slide: CLF 2.0

The goal of CLF 2.0 is to created uniform, accessible web content with a departmental branding

The Federal Governments stance on Accessibility is stated in Treasury Boards Common Look and Feel for the Internet 2.0: http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/clf2-nsi2/index-eng.asp

The standard is comprised of 4 parts:

From a web mapping point of view we are concerned with Part 2 and Part 3, I will cover Part 3 the Standard on Common Web Page Formats first as it is a bit more straightforward.

Slide: Standard on Common Web Page Formats

This part of the standard covers the layout and formatting of web pages.  The design is further expanded on to reflect department specific branding though Environment Canada’s E-Communications department.  They have a design guide which stipulates the usage, style and colour of various page features.  This guide is useful for static pages but when it comes to dynamic web applications there are more unknowns.

EC Internet Look and Feel Guide http://intranet.ec.gc.ca/communications/default.asp?lang=En&n=243D8F0F-1

We have recently finished a project for the Communications branch.  As they are responsible for web content consistency it is a safe bet to model your web mapping content after them.

The application was built with two interfaces.  One that fits nicely into the CLF template and looks similar to all other EC pages, and one that looks more like mainstream web mapping applications:

Map of EcoAction Funded Projects

http://maps-cartes.ec.gc.ca/ecogeo/

Slide: Standard on Accessibility, Interoperability and Usability of Web sites

Satisfying Part 2 of the CLF standard is not as simple as it deals with web accessibility.

  • The goal of web accessibility is to ensure that content online is available to all people regardless of disability.
  • Most of the information in a web mapping application is found in the map which can only be accessed visually.
  • Due to its high dependence on vision, other accessibility requirements often get overlooked

Slide: W3C WCAG Checkpoints

The CLF standard requires web content to satisfy the Priority 1 and 2 checkpoints of the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines which are divided into 4 categories to ensure you content is perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.

  • Perceivable
    • Provide text alternatives for non-text content.
    • Provide captions and alternatives for audio and video content.
    • Make content adaptable; and make it available to assistive technologies.
    • Use sufficient contrast to make things easy to see and hear.
  • Operable
    • Make all functionality keyboard accessible.
    • Give users enough time to read and use content.
    • Do not use content that causes seizures.
    • Help users navigate and find content.
  • Understandable
    • Make text readable and understandable.
    • Make content appear and operate in predictable ways.
    • Help users avoid and correct mistakes.
  • Robust
    • Maximize compatibility with current and future technologies

But some of these priorities don’t affect web-mapping applications, so we’re just going to concentrate on the ones that do.

  • Perceivable: Provide text alternatives for non-text content.
  • Perceivable: Make content adaptable; and make it available to assistive technologies.
  • Perceivable: Use sufficient contrast to make things easy to see and hear.
  • Operable: Make all functionality keyboard accessible.
  • Understandable: Make text readable and understandable.
  • Robust: Maximize compatibility with current and future technologies

Slide: W3C WCAG Checkpoints

Make content adaptable; and make it available to assistive technologies.

  • Offering information in multiple formats
    • The life of a web mapping application is the data, so please offer a text-based version of the data you are loading into the map
  • Allow your users to download it themselves
  • Display it in charts, tables, and graphs etc.
  • Have the most accessible version of your site as the first format encountered by a visitor

Example: National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI)

http://www.ec.gc.ca/inrp-npri/default.asp

  • Online data
  • Online maps
  • Downloadable map layers for Google Earth (.kmz)
  • Downloadable data for Microsoft Access (.mdb)
  • Download data for Microsoft Excel (.xls)

Slide: W3C WCAG Checkpoints

Use sufficient contrast to make things easy to see and hear.

This checkpoint has to do with the cartography of the map.  The design should take into account any colour blindness or weak vision of the user.  This could be text size or colour choice for symbology.

Slide: W3C WCAG Checkpoints

Make all functionality keyboard accessible.

Your web mapping application should not rely solely on the mouse for access to any feature or information

  • Map Tips
  • Point Selection
  • Map Navigation

This is common for web mapping applications as much of the information and features are embedded into the map.

Slide: W3C WCAG Checkpoints

Make text readable and understandable.

  • The advantage of using maps to convey spatial data is that they allow for an easier understanding of spatial relationships and patterns
  • If the alternate to a map is access to the data in raw format it should be laid out in an understandable way not just a data dump

Slide: W3C WCAG Checkpoints

Maximize compatibility with current and future technologies

In order to do this we recommend Progressive Enhancement as a design approach to any web page.

Helpful Links:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_enhancement

http://www.alistapart.com/articles/understandingprogressiveenhancement/

Slide: Web Mapping Accessibility Template (WMAT)

The Inter-Agency Committee on Geomatics (IACG) Web Mapping and Accessibility Sub-group is comprised of subject matter experts from various departments across the federal government.  It is our goal to create a best practices guide for the community.  WMAT is a demo that we will be using to show how these best practices are put into play.  We are hoping it will encourage communication throughout the departments and encourage feedback on how to make an accessible application usable.

We will be releasing an updated version that will have widgets for various web mapping components that developers will be able to use on their own sites.

Associated Links

IACG Sub-Group: http://www.gcpedia.gc.ca/wiki/Inter_Agency_Committee_on_Geomatics/Web_Mapping_and_Accessibility

WMAT: http://maps-cartes.ec.gc.ca/wmat/

Slide: W3C WCAG Checkpoints

There is one outstanding checkpoint:

Provide text alternatives for non-text content.

I’ve saved this for the end as this is the most complicated checkpoint, and one we have yet to have a solution for.  The map is non-text content.  To satisfy this checkpoint we need to describe the map in a meaningful, comparable way to the understanding a person takes away from viewing the map.

Consider:

  • The amount of data behind building a map image.  The number of layers, and how each of those layers represented and interact with each other.
  • The different types of maps there are.  Does map type affect a description?
  • An interactive web mapping application, every time the extent changes or the layers change.  Should the description then also be updated?

Slide: “Describing a Thematic Map”

I chose to delve a little deeper into this area for my research as it was out of scope for anything we could answer as a web mapping development team.

My research question was: How does a sighted person describe a thematic map?

I was hoping to find a way to form meaningful text descriptions of a thematic map that would not just be useful to visually impaired users, but potentially sighted users as well.

I conducted a study where I asked members of the sighted community to describe various thematic maps.

Slide: Database of words

I then took the resulting data and tagged what I thought to be as keywords in the descriptions.

Slide: Categories

I further divided the keywords into categories and sub-categories by looking at how they were used in the descriptions and what they were meaning to convey.

  • Directional
  • Topographical
  • Quantitative
  • Shape
  • Landmark
  • Query Data
  • Thematic
  • Size
  • Jurisdiction
  • Colour
  • Distance
  • Location

Slide: Proposed Description Framework

My study resulted in the following proposed framework in how to structure a description of a thematic map:

A description of a thematic map should relay context by providing

  • Query data, for a general understanding of what the map is representing;
  • Jurisdiction, for a specific area the map is covering;
  • Location, to give real-life names to the area of jurisdiction;

The points shown in the thematic layer should be described in relation to the various topographical features and landmarks by specifying:

  • Size
  • Distance
  • Direction
  • Placement

These descriptions are enriched through the use of descriptive words of the various layers and their features, which should relay

  • Shape
  • Size
  • Colour
  • Direction
  • Quantity

Slide: Example

This map is showing locations of facilities which reported pollutant releases in Canada in 2008. There is a town named Springfield, which is based along the east bank of a river. The river runs alongside the town from north to south. Approximately half way down, the river is joined by a smaller river that arches from the left. At the point where the two rivers join is a railway track. There are 3 facilities shown, the first is at the terminus of the railway track. The second point is located at the south end of the town and to the east of the first point. There is a small park near the center of town and bordering the east side of the river, as well as an orange symbol over the river about X km north of the park. The third point is due east of these two features, and is just outside the north-east side of the town.

Slide: Resources

Common Look and Feel for the Internet 2.0

http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/clf2-nsi2/index-eng.asp

CLF 2.0 Part 2: Standard on the Accessibility, Interoperability and Usability of Web Sites

http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/clf2-nsi2/clfs-nnsi/clfs-nnsi-2-eng.asp

CLF 2.0 Part 3: Standard on Common Web Page Formats

http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/clf2-nsi2/clfs-nnsi/clfs-nnsi-3-eng.asp

EC Internet Look and Feel Guide http://intranet.ec.gc.ca/communications/default.asp?lang=En&n=243D8F0F-1

Map of EcoAction Funded Projects

http://maps-cartes.ec.gc.ca/ecogeo/

National Pollutant Release Inventory

http://www.ec.gc.ca/inrp-npri/default.asp

Progressive Enhancement:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_enhancement

http://www.alistapart.com/articles/understandingprogressiveenhancement/

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My research at UofT has been focused on figuring out the best way to describe a map in order to attach a text description to interactive maps online and therefore satisfy an important accessibility requirement.

I chose this topic not just because I am interested in accessibility and think that it’s a worthwhile cause and will hopefully contribute to peoples lives in some way…but also because it is related to what I do at my full-time job at Environment Canada.  As a government agency, we are required to satisfy the WCAG checkpoints for everything we release online, as every single Canadian citizen is entitled to access the information.  My group is a major hub for web-mapping development at Environment Canada and groups like ours across the federal government were getting alot of questions concerning the accessibility of web-mapping applications.  Web-mapping accessibility was a great unknown and there were no standards that fit with online maps.

So we did what we could in order to create an accessible web-mapping template, and we’re still working on it.  The biggest and most difficult unknown, how to describe the map, was left to my research…as it was something too far out of scope for any project we were working on.  But in the meantime we finally have a dev link that can be accessed by the public.  We made this temporary site so that other government agencies could view and contribute to our accessible template, but I see no harm in sharing it with interested parties outside of the government realm, as any feedback from Canadian citizens is worthwhile in my opinion.  This template is meant to be general and not geared towards any specific government agency even though it is being hosted by us at EC, it is the result of many peoples work and contributions.  Please feel free to test out the WMAT and provide me with any questions/comments/feedback.  If you are not familiar with the project or accessibility in general it may not be obvious as to what has motivated the various design decisions.  One of my first tasks once I get back to work is to draw this up in order to help explain it all.   There is also an ever-expanding list of features and ideas for whenever we have the resources to implement them, we would be happy to add more.

When we first made this template we basically stripped out all features and made it as basic as possible in order to allow for device-independent navigation.  We had to create two different applications, one accessible and one fully-featured as the accessible one proved pretty unusable for a general audience that is used to the world of google/bing maps.  And we still hadn’t accounted for Javascript or the use of embedded data in the map, among many other things.  You can see one of our first iterations here which might make it easier to understand where we started.

Finally though, because we had a proper basic version to work with, we have been able to slowly add more features through progressive enhancement, which you can see through turning Javascript on and off.  It’s finally starting to be more usable to a general audience…although we still have a ways to go.

So why is this a big deal you ask?  Well, I’ve always hated the idea that we had an accessible version and a full-featured version.  Ideally I wanted a working version that could be used by all, and this is a step in that direction.  Also, it’s alot easier to convince developers and clients that they can satisfy accessibility without compromising the “wow factor” (sorry, that’s a terrible term we use at work all the time, but I’m drawing a blank and can’t think of a better one) of an application when you have something to show them.

Hmm, I always mean for these posts to be short and sweet…but I really like to talk/write/chat/communicate…especially about accessibility 😉

The conference had a huge showcase and map display which I was able to walk around now and then throughout the week.  Here are a few links from the people I spoke to and found interesting…they aren’t ranked or anything, so I really recommend clicking on all of them if you have the slightest interest in maps, multimedia, or environmental sustainability!

Global Action Atlas

US Forest Service

Data Basin a portal for conservation datasets, tools, and expertise.

The Green Belt Movement Approach: Responding to Climate Change from the Grassroots.  A program in Kenya that utilizes community groups to engage in climate change through, mitigation, adaptation, and promotion.  The greenbelt was also brought up in the United Nations session I attended, and it was highly regarded.  This program sounds amazing…I even checked out their work opportunities in Kenya as they have a specific program concerning the effect of climate change on women living in poverty, hello dream job, sigh.

19.20.21 A case study of 19 of the worlds biggest cities to explore the impact of population on urban and business planning.

Put your GIS skills to good use and volunteer with GISCorps

Project BudBurst a field campaign for citizens that I think one of the programs at EC should run.

So overall, the trip was great, although very busy.  Our group would most likely benefit from the developers conference as opposed to the user conference but it was useful to attend certain talks to see what people want out of the data they have…which is basically the service our team provides.  Also, it was nice to see what other government agencies and NGO’s are doing.  Plus it was all pretty much new to me, so it was useful for me to get more acquainted to all things ESRI.

It was my first time to San Diego, and California.  So beautiful, and yes obviously the weather was awesome.  Great place to vacation, but I like a little bit of grit to the cities I live in, I kind of felt like I was in a cookie-cutter Pleasantville sometimes! But at least I can tick San Diego off the list 😉

Here’s a photo of me at the entrance to the gala held on the last night…yup, fun follows me wherever I go, can’t help it.

Last post for the esri user conference…I apologize to all those uninterested parties for filling up your rss readers.  Now back to research.

Thursday morning I was up bright and early to walk around Balboa Park. It was so nice even though it was a little difficult to get to, it seems it is assumed everyone has a car in California.  So even though I didn’t have much time to get out of the city, I was still able to go on a tiny bit of a nature walk.

Deploying ArcGIS Server in a Cloud Hosting Architecture

It’s all about cloud-computing.  It seems we have a few options in regards to accessing “the cloud”.  The esri session was mostly focused on the Amazon cloud, as ArcGIS10 supports Amazon but I also spoke to a company Arc2Earth that uses Google.

Getting started: can come out of the box as a deployment option.  ESRI services will get you started

  • need to consider uptime needs
  • Common Deployments
    • Data Management – Geodatase
    • Planning and Analysis – Geoprocessing
    • Field Mobility – Mobile
    • Operational Awareness – Web APIs
  • Elasticity
    • can adjust for peaks and troughs
  • Customizable storage options
    • Won’t need racks and machines is using the cloud
    • can run desktop and server onsite which then push to servers on cloud
    • or can keep both desktop and server on cloud
    • can choose what to keep on cloud: development, staging, production, all or some
  • Increase time to market
    • Don’t have to wait for data center for infrastructure installation of code uploads
  • Cloud may not be reliable enough or secure enough
  • May not be compliant – what are your green standards
  • Subscription Sizes
    • Standard – 7.5 GB – 4 EC2
    • High CPU – 7 GB – 20 EC2
    • High Memory – 64 GB – 26 EC2
  • what is your budget? hourly rate

Thoughts: It seems we can’t have a conversation at EC today without talking about cloud-computing, which is why I went to these sessions.  I have a bunch of take-away pamphlets and information to deliver to the decision-makers, as I am just a cog in the wheel 😉

Mobile GIS Applications

This session featured a bunch of case studies presented by esri developers and a company Accela, showing apps they have developed for various companies and communities in order to showcase the usefulness of mobile apps.

I won’t go into describing each app, as I don’t really see how that will be of help.  I will just summarize the general take-aways of the session.

Main technology used:

  • ArcGIS Server
  • ArcGIS Engine
  • Network Extension
  • Accela Automation
  • Accela Mobile Office
  • Accela GIS

Advantages:

  • can eliminate the need for dual-entry of asset data
  • empowers field and office staff
  • mapcentric leveraging and single GIS environment
  • one solution – many departments
  • real-time updates
  • heightens time management

Thoughts: Generally the case studies where done for cities and states in the area of inspection and enforcement.  The  consolidated data aspect is huge for us, and I have links to all of these apps which will come in handy as I see this taking over a huge chunk of our projects.  I’m sure if we had more people to do the work it already would have.

ArcGIS Server Performance and Scalability – Testing Methodologies

I attended this session in general interest to our group.  But instead of blogging about it I will submit my notes to Langhi and Ali and discuss with them.  We all know I’m the worlds worst tester…and add on the fact that we were talking about geodatabases and geoprocessing I was a little lost.  So before i write up all the notes i took and put them out on the interweb, I’d like to ensure I actually understand them first 😉

Thursday night was the esri gala, an event everyone assured me I should not miss.

Ok back to finishing up my thoughts on the conference and my time in San Diego.  It was a busy few days as I tried to squeeze in both conference attending and site-seeing which made for pretty full days.  I am just going to transcribe the notes I took with my trusty lo-fi notebook and pencil.

Working with Image Services and ArcGIS Server

I am starting out the morning looking into Image Services as it is something we have just begun to use for E2MS, in order to overlay nautical maps onto our base map.  First off,  sound is bad and I’m having trouble hearing the speakers.  I seem to be missing much of the explanations so I guess I’ll be going off of the slides for most of the session.

So the idea behind Image Services is to use a web service to serve up a raster image, which can then be use the same way as any other GIS service layer.   This was more of a tutorial talk, which showed:

  • image services in geoprocessing as raster data through making an image server layer tool
  • using image services in mobile applications though making a live connection to the image service
    • NOTE: if there is no live connection, either export from the image service or use a map cache containing the image service in the mxd

Showed a demo using image services in a web app, which utilizes the same qualities as the desktop apps.

  • REST and SOAP support modifying all image service layer properties
  • can create a mosaic
  • go to arcgis.com “my map” for more info showing the REST API
  • export image

Thoughts: I have used the online resource center offered through esri, but I am starting to realize I was using it all wrong.  There seems to be much more available than I initially thought and I was only using it for the forums.

ArcGIS Mobile – Using the ArcGIS Mobile SDK

This session was jam-packed! Actually all of the mobile session I have looked in on have been very popular…hmm wonder why 😉  We actually haven’t been able to get into mobile apps yet due to priorities and lack of resources, but it is something high in demand at EC.  Mostly handheld devices for field work, but also some mobile phone apps (ie during the olympics) so hopefully it will be involved in an upcoming project.

The session outlined the general components of ArcGIS mobile development. Notes are as follows:

  • everything covered concerning the Windows Moblie Application SDK with documentation is available at the online resource center and community.
  • Mobile apps are good for certain types of functions, you should design with this in mind and leave certain functionality to web apps and/or desktop apps.  Good for:
    • task driven procedures
    • data collection
    • map viewing
  • Mobile Positioning
    • custom mobile extension
    • ready-to use framework
  • Mobile apps have a small footprint in order to have high performance
    • this means the framework has limited functionality as it has a paired down library
  • Visual Studio 2008 support
  • Multiple Connectivity scenarios – you don’t need to be online
  • Mobile Geodatabase
    • scaled for field use
    • Multi-user
    • support of full geodatabase in the office
    • operational layer vs basemap layer requirements
      • permissions
      • global ID
      • versioned vs non-versioned

Thoughts: It’s obvious that this is where most of development is headed, especially due to the client interest.  It seems that the mobile framework will fit in nicely with the our already existing framework.  I will definitely try to squeeze in another Mobile session tomorrow.

After the final session I ran out of the conference to catch a ride to La Jolla for a surf lesson…my first time ever.  It turns out I am uncoordinated on both land AND water…so yeah, lose-lose situation.  It was still fun to get beat up by the waves for an hour and attempt to surf, although the bruises all over my body may lead you to believe otherwise 🙂

Ok ready for another day of maps, gis, data, and all things esri.  For all who were concerned, managed to eat some nachos at Canada Night last night, so vision became unblurred and blood sugar levels returned to normal…funny that they serve nachos and beer at Canada Night, they totally know us!  It was like an EC and esri contractor reunion, finally put faces to names for the esri guys on E2MS and also met some west coast EC colleagues.  Daniel was missed…he’s like Mr.EC-GIS, big man on campus…don’t worry Dan, you would have been proud of your team lastnight, social butterflies 🙂

Anyways, started today off with a 6am run along the waterfront…beeeyooooteeeefulll.  I miss that saltwater air, I haven’t been home to NS for over a year now.  Have a stomach full from breakfast, and I’ll be sure not to make the same mistake and actually take time to eat today so I can continue filling you all in on the action you’re missing!

First up:

Using ArcGIS Schematics to Visualize Data

We don’t use ArcGIS Schematics (as far as I know) but as I am the visualization person, thought I’d take in the session to see what it’s all about and if it would be of use to us.  Serguei is covering the Flex API session…so we are splitting up.

Schematics…many definitions:

  • a simplified representation of an object or set of objects
  • a drawing or diagram representing a set of relationships
  • a way to represent any type of network and diagram within a symbolic system in a defined space without scaling constraints

What is ArcGIS Schematics?

  • automates diagram generation
  • multi-representational views
  • data-driven solution
  • multiple data source access
  • dynamic interaction with GIS
  • business rules

How does it work?

Data in -> process data -> apply data rules -> tools to apply diagram modifications -> schematic diagram out

Demo

Thoughts: As I am new to the web-mapping team, it means I am also pretty much at a loss concerning all of the desktop software.   So this session was good info as to what is available  and how the data gets manipulated before we publish to the server.  I guess I didn’t realize there were so many options in ArcInfo to visualize the data, as I’ve never taken the time to explore it, I’ve just worked with Langhi on modifying what was already in place.  It *seems* pretty straightforward and customizable.  It makes me grateful for people on the team with skills like Grace, somebody who is taking the time to actually work with the data and ensure that it is being visualized in a clean way that makes an impact on the users.

****

Ok so the whole “live” blogging thing didn’t work out.  Mostly because I got tired of lugging my laptop everywhere, so I went back and ditched it at lunch.  I think this means work should invest in an iPad, no?  Everyone else had them!  Anyways, just got back after another eventful day at the conference, but am off to another conference event soon and the internet connection at the hotel is sketchy at best…so will have to put all of notes up tomorrow if I manage to bring my laptop again, otherwise stay tuned!

Here’s an agenda to look forward to:

Working with Image Services and ArcGIS Server

Deploying ArcGIS Serrver in a Cloud Hosting Architecture

Mobile GIS Applications

ArcGIS Mobile – Using the ArcGIS Mobile SDK

ArcGIS Server Performance and Scalability – Testing Methodologies

and lots more….

Making Great Maps with ArcGIS: Large Scale Map Design

mappingcenter.esri.com

Large Scale: city scale, district scale, etc.

Ok I’m trying another Cartography session, hoping this may give tips on data organization.

GUIDING PRINCIPLES

Map Use

  • urban areas – immense amount of data,
  • map analysis – level of detail is a challenge while still making map readable
  • base map – context
  • special purpose maps (trails and transit)

Data

  • multiple sources – skewed or missing data – most likely have to add in attributes
  • “best” data

Map Design

  • features
  • labels
  • more space
  • more realism – balance the level of abstraction with the level of realism
  • more precision

Examples: World topographic map

– proceed to show us how to get various cartographic effects in ArcInfo

Thoughts: I am not a Cartographer, nor am I interested in becoming one…but I would like to see one on our team as I think it’s a gap we have right now.  The examples shown are very clean and beautiful, I can appreciate the work that goes into the design but I’ll probably be staying away from the Cartography sessions for the rest of the conf. as it gets pretty detail-oriented, something I don’t need.

Meeting with ESRI Product Engineers concerning Section 508, CLF, and Accessibility

So I had a bit of a “meeting” with various esri developers and Ihab, our esri canada developer to talk about the problems and solutions concerning accessibility within our group and the federal gov’t in general.

My general impression was that it wasn’t really on their radar.  Well actually it’s more of an impression, that’s pretty much what they said to me 🙂  I explained how currently we have developed our accessible template using the .NET ADF and that we are developing Flex applications now but we are still serving up the .NET template as the accessible option.  They said in all honesty they are concentrating on the new technology platforms – Flex and Silverlight and not much more development will be done on the ADF.  Also they said about 3 years ago they heard alot about accessibility from both the US and Canadian gov’t agencies, but since then it has been pretty quiet.

This would pretty much match what is going on at EC, wasn’t it 3 years ago that everyone got nervous about web-mapping accessibility and realized that there weren’t any standards to address it?  Which is basically one of the reasons I ended up here, we needed a solution.  Accessibility isn’t going away, and we are finally close to a formalized set of best practices and guidelines for web-mapping application that can brought to Treasury Board.  So after explaining what some of those best practices will most likely be and how they will affect a Flex app or a JavaScript app etc. I will follow up with the contacts I made concerning how exactly we plan to make our web-mapping applications accessible and what I think esri could do to help.  It’s not their fault that accessibility is not on their radar, it is up to us as clients to let them know what we need, and admittedly we haven’t known what was needed up to this point.  I think the excitement over Google, Bing, mashups web 2.0 etc etc etc has led to an accessiibility oversight…but I am here to correct that!

They were actually pretty surprised at some of the measures we would have to take to ensure an accessible site, and I got alot of the same comments and questions I get all the time about how accessibility has to catch up to the current technology in order to be viable or how accessibility isn’t possible in general, if you know me, then I’m sure I’ve talked (complained?) about these viewpoints with you already.  Then you also already know that this is where I go into my lecture on Progressive Enhancement…of which I will spare you right now 🙂

Anyways, Ihab was a big help, and the contacts have been made.  I will follow up when I get back to the office.

The United Nations: Climate Change and the Environment

Panel Discussion

This discussion went off topic a bit from GIS-related questions, and onto a heated discussion of the use of carbon credits in Kenya but it remained interesting nonetheless.  Climate Change has not really been on our groups list of priorities since a certain gov’t came into power a couple years ago (am i allowed to say that? uhoh.) but the panel of experts were able to discuss what the UN is doing worldwide with GIS in order to showcase both the problems and solutions of Climate Change.

Right now I’m just going to provide you with links, as I haven’t eaten in the last 10 hrs…and the screen is getting blurry.

Global Adaptation Atlas

UNDP – Adaptation learning mechanism

WMO climate service – targeted towards agriculture and meteorology

Challenges for collaboration – who has the access to information NGO’s private public

Hadley Center – develop models for IPCC, now doing training courses in Africa, forecasting and prediction

The Greenbelt Movement

Shortrun prediction? 5yrs instead of 10-20-30 and on a national level

How can GIS help change the situation?

  • This is a political crisis
  • alerting people to impact in a personal way through visualization using GIS

I know this is my research blog, but for simplicity reasons, I will be hijacking it for the next couple of posts for work purposes. You have been warned.

***Recap from yesterday:  Yup, this conference is huge. This is my first time here and I’m relatively new to the whole geo-spatial community so I’m trying to figure out what will be most useful to me.  Most of yesterday was showcasing ArcGIS 10 and the esri sales pitch.

Ok so I wanted to start off with “Gov 2.0 – Envisioning the Future of Delivering Government Services” but room was packed and it’s the only time the session is being offered…boo esri.

So I have ended up at “Cartographic Design for Web Maps” and still I’m sitting on the floor in the aisle.  I’m hoping it will get a bit more technical, but right now it’s pretty standard usability tips ie. know your audience, and only provide tools that are useful, put data in context *yawn*.

Dynamic web maps:  Map applications that allow you to build a customized map.  Each layer is built upon a very simple base map and details are added gradually depending on user interest. Cool demo.

Mashups: Design considerations when creating a mashups…again standard design and usability considerations here.

The Map Sandwich:

  • Bread – reference and terrain layer
  • Flavour – operational layer (the focus of the map)

ESRI makes available the bread so we can concentrate on the flavour and save time. *provide link later*

They mostly spoke about the importance of choosing the appropriate scale levels, and what level of information you offer at each level and it’s appropriate context.  I guess this reinforces the idea from my research that the reason why the user is coming to the map in the first place is important to understand what data to present.  I will check if there is an advanced cartography session.

Ok onto the next presentation….

Software and Hardware Tools for Climatology and Meteorology

An Open Geospatial Consortium-based Arctic Climatology Sensor Network Prototype

Andrew Rettig and Dr. Richard Beck – University of Cincinnati

Tim Rettig – INTRUST

  • Barrow, Alaska aka “Top of the World” – aka “Ground zero for climate change” (EC’s station is located at Alert)
  • Create data information system using OGC standards – end to end geographic information network – to get the data back to cincinnati
  • Used windows due to user famialiarity – while most use linux (I believe our guys at Alert use linux?)
  • software created by Stratus and Linoma
  • xml files of weather data from arctic sensors – transfer to sql database in cincinnati
  • user ARC sde for spatial data relationship
  • was able to successfully use esri with the OGC standards, which is key for the academic environment
  • visualization – used standard esri mapping template and kml
  • adding imagery geoinformatics (video and photos)
  • network monitoring

Thoughts: Not so sure why these guys are accumulating this data…doesn’t the DOE in the US gather all of this and make it available?  Maybe I am assuming EC already does this with their data.  I know the data is being generated by us…curious.  Ops guys may be able to educate me.

Severe Weather

Keith Stellman – National Weather Service

  • assessment of significant events, type of event, severity
  • time is of the essence, response and recovery are immediate
  • users – media, public, research, emergency mgmt
  • response has evolved into web 2.0 – problems no central repository, information overload, a ton of data, needs to streamline process
  • response should be simple, intuitive, flexible, centralized and quick turnaround
  • collect data (laptop, blackberry) transmit to GIS server – ArcGIS mobile, Blackberry – Freelance mobile, ESRI Arc GIS Server, Flex API
  • I think the use of the Blackberry is novel for us, we don’t utilize mobile tech for severe weather (do we?), i know we do for emergency response though.  Will be attending a mobile development workshop later…stay tuned!
  • Use the flex api interface for quality control, views the data and check/edit what was input through the blackberry
  • push out the qc’d data to a kml file for distribution

parks.camp@noaa.gov

keith- dot-stellman-at-noaa-dot-gov

Thoughts: Enjoyable presentation probably because it was so related to EC-MSC and I could identify with the process. Time well spent.

Mapping and Animating Air Masses with Python and ArcObjects

James Detwiler – Penn State

  • SSC – Spatial Synoptic Classification: classifies the weather at any particular weather station into 6 main categories (ie. Dry Polar, Moist Polar etc)
    • based on surface observations – not instantaneous – 1 day is based on 4 observations
    • air mass calendar for 300+ stations
    • SSC used for agriculture yields, air quality, climate change, heat watch/warning systems (most popular)
    • statistically significant increases in human mortality assoc with certain air masses, varies by city, strong in NE US
  • lays a fine res grid over a map – filter is applied for most common air mass w/i 360 km and assigned to cell
  • has done some work on the cartography end for a more usable map – boundaries of the masses appear jagged and he does various tweaking and clipping for a more usable map and better visualization (i approve)
  • why do this? educational, policy makers, etc.
  • map automation: wrote python scripts – took 6 moths to create daily maps for period of record
  • posted online on a custom google maps page
  • animation technique – originally used Autodesk Animator Pro (very manual, tedious)
  • revisited the animations to make it easier
    • used ArcObjects/VBA to delineate polygons and for edge matching…work still in progress
    • demo of process

Thoughts: This was originally the subject of the presenters masters thesis which he is now revisiting and building upon (nice!).  It was interesting to go through the history and lifecycle of his idea and thought process he had while trying to make the air mass maps better and address problems.  It’s always nice to hear a talk by someone who is obviously invested/interested in the topic.  Will definitely bring this to the appropriate persons attention at EC!

This session much more useful than the last….and full of scientists who all seem to be looking at me wondering why I’m typing furiously on my laptop 🙂

We had our first IACG meeting recently, after our break from the summer. It reminded me yet again how interesting I find this web-mapping accessibility “problem” AND the fact that other people find it interesting too!

Two different groups gave presentations on the status of the web-mapping accessibility solution in their groups. It was nice to see that we are all basically on the same track. It was also clear that some departments have certain areas of strength and expertise that will definitely be helpful to draw upon.

We are splitting up into three different task forces to address specific problems regarding web-mapping accessibility:

  1. To establish a set of best practices associated with developing accessible interfaces that deliver web-mapping for use on the World Wide Web.
  2. To establish a set of best practices associated with the accessible description of map content delivered for use on the World Wide Web.
  3. To provide a consultative forum for the federal geomatics community on accessible web-mapping issues.

I’ll be giving a presentation at next month’s meeting to share what EC has done with our web-mapping applications. Everyone seemed very interested in my research at uoft, so I will present that next month as well. It will give me a chance to strengthen my presentation skills…not something I enjoy flexing. I do think that the committee will take a lot from it, and probably contribute greatly as they are all the subject matter experts from various government agencies.

I had a talk with Jeff Stark (EC’s accessibility go-to guy) a little while ago about the issues we are facing with web-mapping accessibility. Currently our development group has only really been concentrating on the map tools. Making sure all of the controls are accessible and usable. The next step I think will be to tackle accessing the points on the map, and stripping out the javascript.

The way we could present the point information will be interesting to tackle. Jeff was saying that Atlas Canada allows a user to enter a latitude and longitude or through entering place and feature names. I checked this out, and it seems to act like more of a quick zoom.  To actually interact with points on the map, you have to use the mouse.  This may be a useful technique to use with some of our maps in the future.  Though, as we use mostly thematic maps, the users of our maps will most likely not know the lat/long of the facility/monitoring station/point they are looking for…it is a nice feature though and something to keep in mind.

I think as users narrow their search, having the available points display in a data grid below the map would be useful. This was discussed within our team as a way to deal with the NPRI information, as in Alberta alone there over 4000 facilities that report pollutant information, and performance-wise that is a heavy load on the map, and also hinders usability.  We will see what comes out of the next iteration of our web-mapping template 🙂

In the meantime though, Jeff and his group will hopefully take a look at what we’ve done so far and ensure we are on the right track.