Google Aids Visually Impaired Searching

    November 30, 2006

Google enhances features of its search engine to accommodate visually impaired user queries.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to have our vision intact sometimes take for granted the little things we do daily that would be drastically altered if our sight were to fail. Even the simple task of using an online search engine would become a daunting one, and with that in mind Google is changing features of the site to accommodate those who are blind or have failing vision.

Google made the decision to enhance its search engine earlier this year, and the project was spearheaded by Google engineer Dr. T.V. Raman. The decision was made following the restructuring of the visually based security feature “CAPTCHA”, to make the site usable for the visually impaired.

Visually impaired users could not gain access to Google features such as GMail, Google forums or Google accounts because the CAPTCHA security system required users to type in and verify the letters they saw on the page in order to create an account.

Using the enhanced version of the search engine, visually impaired users may access the same advanced features of Google as every other user.

Raman reported to Matt Bailey, “For accessibility, clean, well-structured semantic markup is the best thing you could hope to have. The three key phrases ‘clean,’ ‘well-structured’ and ‘semantic’ are all important in the above. Adherence to specs definitely makes checking easier. I believe that Web sites creating clean, well-formed XHTML content will, over time, find it significantly easier to serve all their users better-simply because their content will be easier to manage and evolve.”

Google is one of many companies making advances in the field of online tools for the blind. Visually impaired Internet users may also use text to speech software, such as OutSpoken for Windows, to aid them in their online usage.

According to the Microsoft website, OutSpoken can be used in conjunction with Microsoft Outlook to check email.

OutSpoken “uses a language model to constantly create new phrases so your alert will not be the same for each message, which creates a more natural feel to the alert message. The tool also has the capability to read the subject and sender of the message to you.”

Google says they will continue to enhance the features of Google for the visually impaired, and hope to make an impact on the community through their work.

Add to | Digg | Reddit | Furl

Autmn Davis is a staff writer for WebProNews covering ebusiness and technology.