[Athen] Google tests web search for blind

Terry Thompson tft at u.washington.edu
Fri Aug 4 07:14:24 PDT 2006

I don't think Google's Accessible Search rewards "text only" sites. It seems
to look for good heading structure, alt text on images, HTML (as opposed to
Flash), etc. and factors all this in when ranking which sites best meet the
user's search needs. The idea is to provide search results that users can
access. On the other hand, one blind colleague has said that relevance is of
more interest to her than accessibility - she would rather struggle through
a relatively inaccessible site if that's the site with the best information.
This is a valid point, but she can always use the standard Google search -
at least with the new Accessible search users have a choice.

As an example of Google's Accessible Search, here's a repost of a test I did
recently - sorry for the cross-post for those who may have seen this on
another list...

My seach was for "Monster House", since my kids have been wanting to see the
movie. A standard Google search (NOT using Accessible Search) returns the

1. The official Monster House home page at sonypictures.com. The entire site
was created in Flash, and is not at all accessible.

2. The Apple Trailers Monster House page - highly graphic, but all graphics
have ALT tags. Links from this page lead to movie trailers.

3. The IMDB.com Monster House page, which uses frames, has poorly tagged
graphics, and is very challenging for a screen reader user.

4. The rottentomatoes.com Monster House page, which is a very busy page with
multiple layers of navigation, no valid HTML structure, and no means of
skipping past the navigation to get to the main content of the page. Again,
very difficult for a screen reader user to access.

In contrast, when I do the same search using Google's Accessible Search, the
Apple Trailers page is the only one of the original four that shows up in
the first page of results. The Apple Trailers page doesn't move up to #1
though - it's #3, superceded by a couple of pages that are at least equally
accessible yet seem to have more information. The accessible top 4 are:

1. A review at cinematical.com. There's a lot of crap at the top of the
page, and the page uses iframes, but these shortcomings are offset by its
use of valid HTML headings, so a screen reader user can with one keystroke
jump directly to the main content, and everything is text from that point

2. Wikipedia's Monster House entry. Highly accessible, and highly
informative (*too* informative for those who haven't seen the movie yet)

3. Apple Trailers, described above.

4. Monster House page at movietickets.com - This page has a valid HTML
heading structure, and even has label tags on form fields.

So, a screen reader user could get the scoop on Monster House much more
quickly with Accessible Search than without, and could even order tickets.

Terry Thompson
University of Washington
tft at u.washington.edu

From: athen-bounces at athenpro.org [mailto:athen-bounces at athenpro.org]
On Behalf Of Kestrell
Sent: Friday, August 04, 2006 6:28 AM
To: Access Technologists in Higher Education Network
Subject: Re: [Athen] Google tests web search for blind

I agree with feeling that tools such as the accessible Google one
present the unfortunate possibility of encouraging the scenario for a
"separate but (not-quite) equal" approach to Web site. design.

My best example at the moment is the Amazon accessible site, which
doesn't seem to allow me to actually use any of the tools I always use, such
as my wishlist.


----- Original Message -----
From: sean keegan <mailto:skeegan at htctu.net>
To: 'Access Technologists in Higher Education Network'
<mailto:athen at athenpro.org>
Sent: Thursday, August 03, 2006 8:28 PM
Subject: Re: [Athen] Google tests web search for blind

I have seen the new google accessible search and have some
mixed reactions
about it. From the user's perspective, it is much easier to
use with a
screen-reader and can be "reflowed" reasonably well. TV
Raman seems to be
the one who really put some work behind this (he is the
blind developer who
created Emacspeak), so it is not surprising that it is
designed for those
using screen-readers.

My concern about this, however, is how Web developers will
interpret this
new search function. There is a difference in search
results between the
accessible search and the regular google search - the
accessible search
relies on a different page ranking algorithm to identify Web
sites that are
"screen-reader friendly". There is a whole field of Web
dedicated to giving their company the highest ranking
possible for the
google search results. It would be unfortunate if we saw
the reappearance
of "text-only" sites in an attempt to get the ranking high
on both the
regular google search AND the accessible google search.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out...

Sean Keegan
Web Accessibility Instructor
High Tech Center Training Unit, California Community

-----Original Message-----
From: athen-bounces at athenpro.org
[mailto:athen-bounces at athenpro.org] On
Behalf Of James Bailey
Sent: Thursday, August 03, 2006 2:43 PM
To: Access Technologists in Higher Education Network
Subject: [Athen] Google tests web search for blind

Interesting article at:

Here's a teaser:
"TV Raman, a research scientist at Mountain View,
California-based Google,
said his project sorts search results based on the
simplicity of page
layout, the quality of design and the organization and
labeling of
information on each page."

James Bailey
Adaptive Technology Access Adviser, University of Oregon
1299 University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403-1299
Office: 541-346-1076
jbailey at darkwing.uoregon.edu

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