This week we’re attending the 27th annual CSUN International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference. As the Internet evolves, screen readers, browsers and other tools for accessibility need to grow to meet the complexity of the modern web. Conferences like CSUN are an opportunity to check in with web users with disabilities: not just to share our progress in making online technologies accessible, but to also discuss improvements for the future.
Who are these users? In August, we conducted a survey with the American Council of the Blind, to find out more about how people with sight impairment use the web. We received nearly 1,000 responses from people who are blind or visually impaired, from a wide range of professions in 57 countries: teachers, software developers, social workers, writers, psychologists, musicians and students. The results paint a picture of why it is critical to improve the accessibility of web applications. Of the respondents:
*Almost 90 percent reported regularly using the web to keep in touch with friends and family
*Over half use a smartphone, and over half own more than one computer
*Over two-thirds of respondents said they use social media
*Over 50 percent have completed a baccalaureate degree, and of those, 30 percent have gone on to to postgraduate studies at the masters’ or Ph.D. level
*Of those who are currently students, over 70 percent have their assistive technology provided for by their school
*However, for those who have left school and are of working age, 46 percent are unemployed
Better web accessibility has the potential to increase educational and employment opportunities, provide social cohesion and enable independence for the people with disabilities. We imagine a future for the web where the most visually complex applications can be rendered flawlessly to screen readers and other assistive devices that don’t rely on sight, using technologies that work seamlessly on browsers and smartphones.
Since we last attended CSUN, we’ve made several improvements to the accessibility of our products:
*ChromeVox (in beta) provides a screen reader that’s built for the web, right inside Chrome.
*We’ve improved accessibility for Google Docs, Sites and Calendar, including keyboard shortcuts and better support in modern screen readers
*Android 4.0 introduces touch exploration and out-of-box accessibility activation
*We’ve also expanded caption support on YouTube—improving access to broadcast and direct-to-web videos for people who are deaf or hard of hearing
If you’re attending CSUN 2012, we hope you’ll come up and say hello at one of our talks on the accessibility of our products, including the use of video in Google+ and Docs and accessibility on Android devices. And Friday we’ll host a Q&A Fireside chat with Google product teams. You can also try some of these improvements out at our two hands-on demo sessions on Thursday, in the Connaught breakout room:
*10am to 12pm—Chromebooks and new features in Google Apps
*1pm to 3pm—Android 4.0 Galaxy Nexus phones
If you’re not attending CSUN 2012, we’d love to hear your thoughts on accessibility in our web forum.