It is a major event when a top technology company moves toward making its services accessible. On Thursday, July 20th, Google launched its Accessible Search <http://labs.google.com/accessible/>. This tool ranks results based on the accessibility of the site, in addition to the usual ranking by relevance. Sites that include a lot of images and unlabeled, repetitive links are harder to navigate using a screen reader. So, the simpler the layout, the higher the rank.
Research scientist T. V. Raman is the mastermind behind Google Accessible Search. He came to Google from IBM in August 2005, and has been working on this project since February. Raman said that Google's methods for identifying accessible pages and content are always evolving. "Currently we take into account several factors, including a given page's simplicity, how much visual imagery it carries and whether or not it's primary purpose is immediately viable with keyboard navigation." Raman says that even an expert screen reader user like himself benefits from finding the most relevant information as quickly as possible.
If you are an experienced screen reader user, you probably will agree that Google's home page is relatively easy to navigate. However, the accessibility of the pages generated in a standard set of results is unpredictable. The top results for a search might be pages that are totally cluttered with extraneous links. Even worse, you might find a page with no readable text at all.
You will often find pages from Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, near the top of the results on Google's Accessible Search. Their text-based, uncluttered pages are examples of the type of pages this engine ranks highly.
The Accessible Search is still a work in progress. Some testing has been done both internally and externally. However, Raman strongly encourages people to try the search and provide feedback. AccessWorld readers are invited to try Google Accessible Search and use the Feedback link on the page to tell Google what you think.
Google's Accessible Search is a positive first step for a company at the top of the technology world. Now that they have shown an interest In accessibility, we expect more. The Accessible Search page should be linked directly to the Google main search page. Repetitive links, such as "cached" and "similar pages" could be eliminated. More importantly, Google needs to work on making their Book Search, Gmail and other products accessible. And, in the future, Google products should be accessible right from the start. We look forward to more good things from Google.
In this issue, Darren Burton, of AFB TECH, reviews the latest off-the-shelf cell phones. These phones are all designed with a degree of built-in speech-output capability; they do not offer full speech access to all features. Phones evaluated include: LG VX 4650 from Verizon Wireless; LG AX 4750 from Alltel; LG UX 4750 from US Cellular; Motorola i355 and i580, available from Nextel Wireless; Owasys 22C from Capital Accessibility, LLC.; and Samsung SGH D-357 from Cingular Wireless and Samsung SGH A-920 from Sprint PCS. Read our comprehensive review of these phones.
Satellite radio is an alternative to commercial AM and FM stations. Brad Hodges, of AFB TECH, evaluates the accessibility of four satellite radio receivers. He also visits the web sites of XM Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio and discusses the accessibility of each site. Find out how accessible the equipment is for these two services.
Deborah Kendrick reviews the Milestone 311, an MP3 player and digital voice recorder designed specifically for people who are blind. It is small, with controls that are easy to distinguish tactilely. Read about this well-designed but pricey option.
Lee Huffman, of AFB TECH, evaluates the i-Stick from OPTRON Assistive Technologies, a laptop-compatible CCTV. This is the third article in a series evaluating CCTVs that are compatible with laptops, weigh less than 5 pounds, have a rotating camera that allows for near and distance viewing, and have the ability to take a "picture" of an image and save it to the computer. Learn what this product has to offer.
Deborah Kendrick reviews Blog On! Reading and Writing Blogs with a Screen Reader, by Anna Dresner, published by National Braille Press (NBP). This book describes the basic tools for reading, locating, and writing blogs. The author walks the reader through every step of first reading and then writing a blog, always from the point of view of a screen reader user. Check out this excellent resource.
Jennifer Sutton, from San Mateo, California, presents an introduction to podcasting. She defines a podcast as resembling an Internet radio show, usually in MP3 file format, posted on the web for interested listeners to download. She goes on to describe software that will automatically download podcasts to which you subscribe and lists resources to get you started in the world of podcasting.
Anthony Candela, Deputy Director, Specialized Services Division, California Department of Rehabilitation, presents the second in a series of articles chronicling the history of assistive technology. He interviewed more than 20 major players--inventors, company executives, trainers--spending hours with each one. Read about how these people's innovations led to the assistive technology we use today.
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