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Google – Web Accessibility is NOT Just for Blind

Google recently set up a course in web “accessibility” which may sound great at first. Until they start the paragraph with: “According to the World Health Organization, 285 million people have vision impairments.”

As if people who are blind or have low vision are the only users with disabilities having difficulties using websites. What about people with other disabilities? It is not the first time when an organization or an individual talks about web accessibility as something only for blind users. However, Google should have know better than that as a very high profile organization with enough resources to hire qualified accessibility experts to provide right information about accessibility.

Here’s a screenshot of the Google’s “accessibility” course homepage:

Screenshot of Google's Intro to "Accessibility" course homepage.

Google doesn’t mention other disabilities or the fact that people with disabilities represent the market that is about the same size as that of China. It doesn’t mention that there are 642 millions of deaf and hard of hearing people in the world or that much of aural information is not captioned.

Thank goodness, their video has human-made captions (though they could be improved in some ways), not machine-generated auto captions. However, they do not even explain that YouTube auto captions are not of acceptable quality and are to be used only as a tool to make captioning process easier. They focus mainly on how to make a website accessible for blind people and in Chrome only and disregard the needs of people who have physical, hearing, cognitive disabilities.

There’s enough of frustrations with explaining to video owners that it is not enough to just turn on auto captions in YouTube videos, it is even frustrating for people like me who attend accessibility events where they seem to focus mainly on blind users or talk about accessibility without realizing that their aural information is not accessible to those who cannot hear or understand audio. For example, at TDI conference in 2009 Mike Shebanek, a representative of Apple, spent all of his presentation in the front of the deaf and hard of hearing audience talking about accessibility for BLIND users and could not answer any of their questions and concerns during the 15-minute Q&A session. I was personally present there and could not believe my own eyes that the speaker did not consider the needs of deaf and hard of hearing users during his talk.

That’s the reason why I set up an Audio Accessibility website and have been giving talks at events and consultations to businesses and individuals about the importance of good quality captioning as universal access and about various communication modes used by deaf and hard of hearing people.

Even when addressing needs of blind users, Google does not practice what they preach as explained by George Zamfir in his Google Plus post. Here are some excerpts:

  • “Introduction to Web Accessibility” – generic at best and misleading at worst. Really, the title should be “Introduction to Web Accessibility with Chrome / ChromeVox”.
  • “The accessibility community has been working relentlessly to eliminate this dogma, that accessibility is only for visual impairments and by extension only for screen readers. With the way this course is presented you are basically promoting this dogma and really squash the existing efforts.”
  • “As an accessibility professional (goodwally.ca) and organizer of accessibility meetups (meetup.com/a11yTO) I cannot in good conscience recommend this course to my members in its current form. The current form being potentially misleading and specific to Google products.”

Totally agree with George. As an accessibility professional, I would not recommend that course either. I would forgive a small organization or an individual who is not well known trying to teach some things they think they understand about accessibility to the local community, but those large and well known organizations like Google would do more harm than good by spreading wrong information to the whole world about “accessibility”.

Google – please do a favor to the accessibility community and users with disabilities to consult and double check with experienced accessibility professionals first before developing a course to teach about accessibility that addresses needs of more people than just those who are blind. Thanks!

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About Sveta

Svetlana Kouznetsova (Sveta) is a Web/UX Designer and Accessibility Specialist. She is also a speaker at events and conferences. Her services include user experience & accessibility, consulting & training, speaking & teaching.

11 Responses to Google – Web Accessibility is NOT Just for Blind

  1. DarkGrayKnight says:

    Great article. I would add people with motor skill difficulties.

    • Sveta says:

      Thanks, DarkGrayKnight. I did mention about other disabilities when talking about Google disregarding “the needs of people who have physical, hearing, cognitive disabilities.” People with physical disabilities include individuals with motor skill difficulties.

      • DarkGrayKnight says:

        Sorry, I missed that line. I know a lot of older people that have difficulty filling out forms because only the checkbox can be clicked instead of the label for the checkbox.

      • Sveta says:

        Yes, I’m well aware of it and find it sad to see so many online forms inaccessible. Even as someone with no motor skill difficulties, I find it easier to use forms with labels.

  2. Rachel says:

    Hi Sveta, great article, when I saw Google+Accessibility headline I sniggered a little ,(until I read on) it’s as bad as pairing up Microsoft + Accessibility. You are correct in saying the larger companies do more ‘harm than good’ spreading misinformation about accessibility. Many of the Google products are frustrating to use, too many tabs and a ‘fast food’ approach to delivering a course on something they obviously don’t really rate very highly is very damaging when consumed by the masses. I’ll bet their focus group was internal and user journeys are based on ‘visually impaired’ only. Looking forward to reading more…

    • Sveta says:

      Thanks, Rachel, for comment. Agreed with you. Ironically, even the course itself is not accessible either – I’ve heard many complaints about it, too.

  3. Thanks a lot for eyes opening article. Complete different dimension view I learnt today about accessibility.

    From front developer perspective – I feel Jaws screen reading tool is solution for audio accessibility, My job is to make my web page compatible for Jaws reader. Chrome vox is alternate for Jaws.

    If I solve issues related to blind and Jaws compatible markup. We are solving major issues right ? what else need to consider ?

    • Sveta says:

      Not really – there are more major issues to resolve than just those experienced by blind users. For these reasons, WCAG were developed to help people involved in the project to make their websites more accessible for more people than just blind.

    • There is a lot more to front end development than making sure it works with a screen reader. Sure, that is important, but most sites lack even some general usability that would benefit all users. That is the first thing to check, general usability. Does the site work as users would expect? Does it work on all major platforms? Do the fancy features on the site interfere with its actual functioning? Thoughts about color contrast for color blind, spacing and placement of controls for use by those with physical disabilities or even poor monitors/mouse/hardware.

  4. Kylie says:

    Google doesn’t even listen to their supposed demographic. We’ve told them several times that ChromeVox is not an option. Our users who have visual impairments are all using JAWS to read their other applications. They can’t be expected to toggle between JAWS and ChromeVox every time they switch in and out of Chrome. Google has never responded to this except to come back after some time with another “Look at our accessibility improvements” announcement that’s all about Chromevox again.

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