Submitted by Tom on Fri, 05/21/2010 – 22:14
Earlier I posted about how Google made its front page inaccessible to many people with disabilities. In the meantime, the problem got resolved, but this is not the end of story.
Just to recap, what happened was ten seconds after opening the Google front page, a sound started playing. It made it next to impossible for blind people
to navigate the page with their screen reader. When you hear music, it is hard to understand your screen reader.
First of all, I would like to express my appreciation to Google that they have resolved this issue. However, there are still some things to talk about here.
One way to deal with this would be to say sorry for the upset post, delete it and to move on. But what happened raises some major concerns.
So, what’s so upsetting about this whole incident: the fact that many people rely on Google, on a regular basis, including those with disabilities, those
who use a screen reader. It is not a toy, it is not entertainment, it is a serious work tool. The kind of tool that many people use several times a day
for years. When your fingers automatically type “google.com” when you are curious about something. It is an informational tool, it is a work tool, and
so many other things that would be difficult to list.
There is nobody to say that Google must be accessible to people with disabilities. In fact, they can choose not to be if they wish. It would definitely
not be a wise decision, but it is an option. Instead, Google, on its
makes a strong commitment to people with disabilities. Google in fact employs several people to ensure their accessibility. At this point, the responsibility
is greater. It is good customer service, if you make a commitment to a large segment of your customers, those customers expect that you will keep your
promise. If I knew that Google didn’t care about accessibility for people with disabilities, I would have other search engines to use.
One might also say that we all make mistakes, and it was surely one. After all, it is hard to imagine that it was deliberately done to make Blind people’s
lives more miserable. Of course not. But it is also hard to imagine that when Google launches a new feature on their main page, they don’t run it through
some kind of quality assurance testing. If it was another error that effected all users, millions of people would have noticed right away, and a company
like Google can’t afford it. However, even a simple quality assurance testing of such a new feature should be able to reveal such a major error. When we
test for usability experience, proper coding, proper functionality, it is hard to imagine that it was not tested for accessibility for people with disabilities.
Simply because of the commitment Google makes. Because, what is it. A statement to make people happy, or something that is backed up. The only way to back
up such commitments is to integrate web accessibility into all future processes, or at least, into the more important ones, such as their flagship product,
the search engine.
Also, it is hard to imagine that with that many accessibility experts on staff this issue did not get caught. It doesn’t even require accessibility experts.
Nowadays, more and more web developers, designers and project managers have some kind of web accessibility experience, at least to catch major errors.
But ok, let’s just say that it was a mistake. It slipped through, it happens. Then why did I get on it right away?
Unfortunately, based on previous experience, I treat all new Google products with suspicion. I have never been convinced that the new products will be accessible
to people with disabilities. Just look at the recent launch of Wave. With so many assistive technologies, it is practically useless. While a large number
of Google products are very accessible, many aren’t, and I can’t at this point assume that they will be.
I have trained and advised many people with disabilities, especially blind people, and very often they have asked my advice about using different Google
products. Here, I am not going to provide a list that’s not the purpose of this post. But in many instances my answer is that certain ones aren’t, and
others are partially accessible. You can use parts of them, or you can implement some work-arounds.
And today, Google just gave us another evidence that they don’t honor their commitments. I can’t help but I feel that their accessibility statement is lip
I hope it will be different in the near future, but as of today, I will have to advise my clients not to use certain Google products due to the lack of