colorful world map with countries labeled

How to create accessible non-visual digital maps of countries

Best practices when creating maps of countries using SAS Graphics Accelerator.

UPDATE: SAS 2022 interns have created 35+ European maps which are now available in the Paths to Technology Map Library! Check out and download these free country maps along with other types of maps!

This document contains best practices for creating general reference maps of countries using Google My Maps so people with visual impairments or blindness can explore them using SAS Graphics Accelerator.

Note: At this time, SAS Graphics Accelerator only supports points. It does not support lines or regions. This limitation requires special consideration when creating maps of countries.

General best practices for labels

  1. Labels should be as short and succinct as possible.
  2. Do not use acronyms or abbreviations, e.g. use Northeast instead of NE.


Create the following layers within the map. 

  1. Borders
  2. Major Cities
  3. Major Geographic Features 


Within the Borders layer, create approximately five to ten points along the borders of the country. Place the points at any/all of these strategic locations:

  1. Extreme geographic locations, e.g. the southern most point.
  2. Along borders with each neighboring country. 
  3. Along the coast of large bodies of water or rivers which are superimposed on the border of the country.
  4. If possible, place points at the conjunction of a border with another country and a body of water, e.g. the border between the united States and Canada on the Pacific Ocean.

Note: In the Ukraine Country map, the borders were labeled at specific points, where three countries intersected.

Best practices for labels

  1. For points on a border with another country, include “border with X” where X is the other country.
  2. For points on a body of water, include the name of the body of water.
  3. Include cardinal direction, when appropriate, e.g. Northern, Southeastern, etc.
  4. If possible, use all the suggestions above within the same label.

Example labels

  1. Northwestern border with Canada at the Pacific Ocean
  2. Northern border with Canada at the Great Lakes
  3. Northeastern border with Canada at the Atlantic Ocean
  4. Southern border with Mexico on the Gulf of Mexico
  5. Southern most point at the Florida Keys between the Gulf of Mexico to the West and the Atlantic Ocean to the East
  6. Northwest border with Poland and Belarus (Ukraine map)

Major cities

Within the Major Cities layer, create points for the five to ten largest or most well-known cities within the country.

Best practices for labels

  1. Include only the name of the city. Do not include the name of the state or province it is in.
  2. If the city is the capitol, specify it in the label. 
  3. Include “city” and a short description of what the city is known for in the label for cities.

Example labels

  1. Washington, D.C., capitol
  2. Miami, coastal city, finance, commerce, culture, arts, and international trade
  3. Seattle, city on the Puget Sound, fourth largest port for container handling

Note: Use Wikipedia to find information about the city.

Major geographic features 

Within the Major Geographic Features layer, create points for up to ten major geographic features. What are the criteria for major geographic features?

  1. Things you can see from space.
  2. One of the seven wonders of the world.
  3. A large mountain range, e.g. the Rocky Mountains.
  4. The mouth of a large river.
  5. A large desert.

Best practices for labels

  1. Include the name of the feature and, optionally, a very short explanation of the geographic shape of the feature.
  2. For mountain ranges, place the point on the highest mountain peak in the range and name that point.

Example labels

  1. Mojave Desert, covers 25,000 square miles
  2. Mount Elbert, highest point of the Rocky Mountains, ranges from the Southwest United States north to Canada
  3. Mouth of the Mississippi River on the Gulf of Mexico, the largest river in North America

Example country map

Note: When creating the Ukraine Country Map, I did an Internet search to find a Ukraine map that listed major cities and geographic information to assist in determining the map labels.

I have attached the Ukraine labels as examples.

A visual Ukraine map labeled—Map Explainer: Key Facts About Ukraine—with major cities, geographic features and additional facts.

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