iMap from Tate Museum – Interpreting Visual Art for the Visually Impaired

An interesting accessibility tool is i-Map Creative Access from the Tate Museum in Great Britain.


In this project, select pieces of art from their collection has been additionally annotated for visually impaired audiences. The site includes an image, an extensive description of the image (“Orientation”) – a feature that can be added to most descriptions of visuals.

In addition though, there are two options depending on the severity of your visual impairment. For those with near total loss of vision, there is an audio tour (with transcription) as well as a PDF of the images which are meant to be printed on a printer which supports embossed Braille and raised images. The site also supports a menu to switch between normal, large text and hi-contrast view.

For low vision users, there are some animations such as this animation of Matisse’s The Snail The images are in Flash, but there is keyboard support and text external to Flash. Very interesting to view actually

Gap in Usability

I would recommend this site, but there is one accessibility gap – the one for usability. For some reasons the PDF file for the raised image is separate from everything else. In fact there is one document which has the Braille and images for the entire set of annotated images.

I really fail to see the benefit of one document separated from everything else. For one thing, it’s simple to split a PDF into multiple docs, even if all you have is the PDF. For another, it is very confusing to gather everything together for a single piece of art.

I would really prefer to see everything relating to the piece on one page – image, description, audio and PDF. I would also love to see it integrated into the regular collection with maybe an iMap icon for those pieces with the extra annotation completed. The animation, in particular, would be valuable for sighted visitors since they separate and describe the components of the art very well.

Accessible, but Not Universal

Although this is a fabulous project with great lessons to be learned, I am heartbroken about the lack of usability and lack of universal design. This kind of navigation where the “accessibility” features are split off is counter to the concepts of universal design where everything is integrated in one place and available to all.

it’s also the kind of design that scares people new to accessibility who think accessibility is a second site, not one site with a few extra features.

It is possible that iMap is a demo, which is why it is split off. But it could also be a project whose funding has run out and dropped off the radar in terms of maintenance. I really hope I am wrong.

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