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Making maps and making geographic data and accompanying stylesheets easily obtainable and usable is imperative to successful use. Accessibility factors to consider in the design process include distribution formats, user disabilities, cost and intuitiveness in use.

Maps are increasingly presented in electronic format. This brings about a need to consider the file type/format which instantly limits the software that can be used to view the map; and to decide on the devices and platforms for which the map will be offered, for example which web browsers or mobile platforms are supported. Similarly stylesheets, whether for a GIS or web map server, are often specific to certain software releases. Even for paper mapping, there needs to be consideration of points of sale, folding model, etc.

User ability is another consideration. The map should be intuitive to use and not rely upon a good knowledge of cartography or any other technical understanding. Furthermore a good design will try to be as inclusive as possible. Something like colour vision deficiency (CVD, often referred to as ‘colour blindness’) is likely to be prevalent amongst users as it effects an estimated 8% of males and 0.5% of females in Western Europe, the USA and Japan. It is possible to design with this in mind by choosing more CVD-friendly shades of colour and ensuring suitable colour contrast. Likewise, the sizing of text and feature legibility places expectation on the eyesight of the user. Other levels of ability might also be considered depending upon the likely user scenarios.

Accessibility is also affected by the control mechanisms placed on the map, for example licensing and copyright restrictions. Open data – the idea of making certain datasets freely available to everybody for use and reuse – is one way of increasing accessibility in this instance.


OS OpenData – A set of Ordnance Survey’s detailed digital maps that are free to download and use in both personal and commercial applications.

The mapping can be used with other open datasets available on data.gov.uk to enhance data you already have or to create new innovative applications.

One of the datasets is Strategi® which is a small-scale vector product available in 3 different formats; ESRI® Shapefile, MapInfo TAB and DXF AutoCAD®. It is ideal to get a regional overview of Great Britain and it contains a wealth of features including roads, railways, airports, ferries, water features, cities, towns, villages, woods, tourist attractions and geographic names. It is also supplied with a gazetteer and cartographic styling to help users visualise the data. There is a styling guide available to help users customise the data to suit their own requirements. Styled Layer Descriptors are available for Strategi, making it easier to implement this detailed mapping into a web map or desktop GIS.

Find out about OS OpenData products.

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