From time to time, our own T.V. Raman shares his tips on how to use Google from his perspective as a technologist who cannot see -- tips that sighted people, among others, may also find useful. - Ed.
We provide a wide variety of services that are mostly accessed with a web browser. People visit Google from a large number of browsers and platforms; in addition, we also understand that every user is special and may have special needs. Accessibility at Google is about making sure that our services work well for all our users -- independent of your needs and abilities at any given time.
Web search, our primary service, has a very simple interface and has always been accessible from a variety of user environments. Newer services that present highly interactive interfaces continue to present accessibility challenges when used with specialized adaptive technologies such as screenreaders. We are committed to finding accessibility solutions that make our services work better for everyone who visits.
Here's a list of our accessibility-related services and a few solutions to some accessibility challenges.
- Web Search: Result pages include headers to delineate logical sections.
- Accessible Search: Promotes results that are accessible.
- Book Search: Full-text access to public-domain works.
- Gmail: A simple yet functional HTML mode that works well with screenreaders.
- Gmail Mobile: A lightweight user interface that is also speech-friendly.
- Google Maps: Easy-to-use textual directions.
- Calendar: A functional, yet speech-friendly user interface.
- Audio Captchas: All services that use Google Accounts provide an audio alternative for the visual challenge-response tests that are used to distinguish humans from machines.
- Mobile Transcoder: A mobile lens for viewing the web that produces accessible views.
- Google Video: Allows uploaded videos to contain captions/subtitles in multiple languages for viewers who are hearing-impaired or unfamiliar with the original language.
- Google Talk: IM clients inside a web browser can pose accessibility challenges, but the use of the open Jabber API means that Google users can choose from a variety of Jabber clients, many of which work well with adaptive technologies.
- Web APIs: Many Google services offer high-level web APIs that aid in authoring mashups; this provides a means for creating highly customized accessible views.
- 1-800-GOOG-411: Here's an exception to the rule that we deliver most things through a web browser. Our experimental Voice Local Search service lets anyone who can speak into a phone search for a local business by name or category; get connected to the business free of charge; get the details by SMS if you’re using a mobile phone. (Just say "text message".)
If any of this interests you, we invite you to participate in our user community. Please tell us what works well, share your own tips on using Google services, and make sure to tell us what could be made even better.
Update: Added info on 1-800-GOOG-411.