For visually impaired users Web pages that are designed to be accessible can be more easily read by screen reading machines or by making the type larger. But welldesigned accessible pages are not yet everywhere.
Google took a major step today toward helping users find the most accessible pages on a given topic. It is releasing a beta version of Accessible Search for the Visually Challenged available at http://labs.google.com/accessible/.
Accessible Search is "designed to identify and prioritize search results that are more easily usable by blind and visually impaired users" Google said in a statement on the site.
Headed by a Blind Researcher
A project of Google Labs the Accessible Search project is headed by T.V. Raman a former IBM researcher who became blind from glaucoma as a child. There are nearly million visuallyimpaired Web users in the U.S. alone who like Raman face challenges in finding information when they conduct a search. Screen readers for blind or dyslexic users turn screen text into spoken words but if the page is not designed for accessibility the result could be gibberish.
Accessible Search looks at the page's HTML and favors pages that are more easily understood when images are turned off as well as those that are most accessible through keyboard navigation. Such a page will also tend to read well when a screen reading machine is used. Web pages that are complex visually or have much of the information or navigation primarily in visuals are less favored.
"It's good to see Google following in the footsteps of Apple IBM Microsoft Sun and many others in terms of accessibility" said Yankee Group analyst Laura DiDio.
She also noted that the increased availability of accessibility software could help businesses. "The real ramification for IT departments" she said "is that it makes it easier to support visually impaired employees."
Google said it used guidelines provided by WC the Web standards organization and by others. The search is based on Google Coop technology which creates specialized searches.
Raman said Google's next targets include making Google Mail and Google Talk more accessible. Google said it has already taken steps to make its word verification system more accessible to visuallyimpaired users. The word verification system utilizes those squigglyletter images that must be visually read by users to prevent automated programs from accessing accounts.