There’s an accessible app template for that

January 4, 2017 George Kouroupis

Discover how ArcGIS configurable application templates are an easy way to deploy apps that are ready to use and accessible by individuals with disabilities.

This is the second part of our blog series dedicated to ArcGIS accessibility. The first part focuses on how accessibility is part of ArcGIS.

In this blog, we discuss options for building accessible web apps with ArcGIS. But first, let’s summarize the standards and legislation driving the initiative for implementing accessible websites.

Developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), WCAG  is the internationally accepted standard for web accessibility. The purpose of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is to benefit all Ontarians by developing, implementing and enforcing universal accessibility standards.

The Guide to the Accessibility for Ontarians provides a description of the Act and where to look in the Act for information on specific topics. Ontario and the rest of Canada follow WCAG for meeting and implementing accessibility standards like AODA.

Do you need web apps that comply with WCAG 2.0? Do you need apps that do one thing and do that one thing well? Imagine selecting a WCAG application template, configuring it with a map, publishing the app for users without writing code and reusing the same template for other web maps. ArcGIS configurable application templates are an easy way to deploy apps that are ready to use and accessible by individuals with disabilities.

The Basic Viewer template includes accessibility components. When you share a web map within ArcGIS Online or Portal for ArcGIS, select the Basic Viewer template as shown above. Configure the template as required and note the new “Accessibility” setting.

Configurable templates are just one of many ways to deploy accessible apps with ArcGIS. The concept of a configurable template is “build once, reuse many times.” Organizations can build an inventory of WCAG-compliant templates that address specific workflows, capabilities or accessibility needs. Once the templates are registered with your ArcGIS Online account, the template becomes available across the organization for other users to configure with their web maps. One such configurable template exists today on GitHub. This is an open-source template that you can use right away or modify as required.

Three basic options for building WCAG applications exist. In many cases, users utilize all three methods when deploying GIS applications. The approach you choose depends on the workflow and complexity of the application.

  1. Configurable Application Templates – deploy configurable templates without the need to write code
  2. App Builders – assemble an application from pre-defined widgets that use the What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get (WYSIWYG) user interface
  3. APIs and SDKs – developer tools and programming languages

Configurable Application Templates allow you to build web apps from the web maps you create without having to write code.  Application templates are geared to the non-programmer although programmers use templates because they radically shorten implementation time compared to writing code. You create an app with a web map by using a configurable app template. Different templates offer various configurable components such as different layouts, colour schemes, editing and identify tools, social media feeds and map viewers. Once you’ve found a template you like, configure the components and publish the app. As an alternative, you can download a template and deploy it to your organization's web server. Downloading the template includes the source code, which you can modify to conform to WCAG when the template lacks some accessibility capabilities required by your organization.

ArcGIS App Builders such as the Web AppBuilder for ArcGIS is an intuitive WYSIWYG application that allows you to easily build web applications without writing a single line of code. It includes powerful tools to configure fully featured HTML web applications. As you add your map and tools, you can visually see them in the app and use them right away. Developers can write custom widgets and include them in the Web AppBuilder widget gallery. These widgets can be written to WCAG standards and reused for other web apps. See the list of Web AppBuilder for ArcGIS Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates.

ArcGIS APIs and SDKs are available for developers to build WCAG-compliant apps when templates or the Web AppBuilder does not address your application needs.

There are times when custom development is necessary to support complex workflows or improve the user experience for individuals with disabilities. A redesigned user interface may sometimes be necessary because incorporating WCAG into existing user interfaces and apps might be inadequate for some end users. Esri provides APIs which allow developers to build these types of apps. The ArcGIS API for JavaScript is the predominant development language among GIS developers for creating WCAG-compliant web apps that run across any device.

The ArcGIS API for JavaScript combines modern web technology and geospatial capabilities, enabling you to create high-performing apps and better visualize your data. Apps developed with the API can be standalone or configurable templates (as described previously). Configurable templates can be reused by others in the organization. Thus, organizations can build an inventory of WCAG-compliant templates that address specific workflows, capabilities or accessibility needs. Once the templates are registered with your ArcGIS Online account, the template becomes available across the organization for other users to configure with their web maps.

One such configurable template, the WCAG Basic Viewer, is available on GitHub. This is an open-source template you can use as is or modify. This viewer was designed from the ground up to address specific user interface needs of those with disabilities.

The WCAG Basic Viewer keeps interactions with the map to a minimum, displaying relevant information in a data pane, while supporting screen readers and keyboard navigation within the data pane. The map is there as a reference to the user, and it does include keyboard navigation. The template was developed to meet WCAG Level AA conformance.

Ready to give the template a try? Download the WCAG Basic Viewer and share your accessible apps with us by leaving a comment below. 

About the Author

George Kouroupis

George Kouroupis is the Director of Technology and Solutions for Esri Canada. His efforts are focused on advising customers and business partners on the latest ArcGIS trends and technologies. With over 35 years’ experience in software development, project management and product management, George takes a holistic and pragmatic approach to addressing customer’s technical and business problems.

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