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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 ( and organizer of accessibility meetups ( 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!

Published in Accessibility