[Athen] Google Announces Sweeping Accessibility Improvements for Visually Challenged Users

Laurie Vasquez vasquez at sbcc.edu
Wed Sep 14 20:00:37 PDT 2011

Google Announces Sweeping Accessibility Improvements for Visually Challenged Users
By Jon Mitchell / September 14, 2011 2:24 PM / 0 Comments

Google has announced a new initiative to increase accessibility for visually challenged users on its major Web services. In advance of the upcoming school year, Google is rolling out accessibility improvements to Docs, Sites and Calendars. Google is hosting a live webinar for enterprise customers - which include educational institutions - on Wednesday, September 21 at 12:00 p.m. Pacific time.

The enhancements include new keyboard shortcuts and enhanced screen reader support. Google says it has "worked closely with advocacy organizations for the blind to improve our products with more accessibility enhancements" over the past few months, and that more changes are on the way. "We believe that people who depend on assistive technologies deserve as rich and as productive an experience on the web as sighted users," says T.V. Raman, Google's technical lead on accessibility, "and we're working to help that become a reality."

Improvements to Docs and Sites

Google Docs and Siteswill now support the JAWS and ChromeVox screen readers. Here are some examples of the screen reader improvements from the Google Docs Blog:

* In documents, you'll hear feedback when you format text or insert tables, lists or comments in your document.
* In spreadsheets, you'll hear the cell's location, contents and comments when moving between cells.
* In both documents and spreadsheets, you'll hear feedback as you navigate to areas outside the main content area, such as the menu bar, chat pane and dialog boxes.
* In your documents list, you'll hear feedback when you upload or download a file, organize collections or move between files in your documents list.
* In Sites, you'll hear feedback as you navigate and manage your sites, create and edit pages, and navigate through menus and dialog boxes.

Docs and Sites also received new keyboard shortcuts, such as use of the arrow keys for navigation in the document list and the ability to open docs by pressing enter. The Docs Blog has links to the complete list of shortcuts.

Improvements to Google Calendar

Google Calendar added support for JAWS and ChromeVox as well as Apple's VoiceOver control, which allows visually challenged users to manage calendars, create and edit events or simply browse events. It also received keyboard shortcuts for navigation with the arrow keys and opening and closing details with the enter key. From the Gmail Blog:

* In your calendar lists, you can use the up and down arrow keys to navigate between your calendars. For each calendar in the list, you'll hear its name and can use the spacebar to turn the calendar on or off. To remove a calendar from the list, use the delete key.
* In the agenda view, you can use the up and down arrow keys to move between events and use the left and right arrow keys to move between dates. To expand an event and expose the event details, press enter. To go to the event details page, type 'e'. To remove an event, press delete. Although agenda view provides the best screen reader experience today, we are also working on improved accessibility for other views.
* In the guest list on the create/edit event page, you can navigate around using the up and down arrow keys. Use the spacebar to switch a guest's status between optional and required. To remove a guest from the list, use the delete key.
* Additional keyboard shortcuts make it easier to use Google Calendar no matter which view or screen you're on. Type 'c' to create an event, '/' to start a search, and '+' to add a calendar.

Making The Web Accessible

Last year, President Obama signed the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act into law, which formally pushed legal protections for disabled Americans into the digital world. Today's announcements of Google's accessibility improvements marks a big step forward for visually challenged users of some of the Web's key free services in the U.S. but around the world.

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