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Google Apps Accessibility and Barriers

Google has expressed a commitment to accessibility and provided instructions for how to use accessibility features of their products.

However, Google Apps currently possess accessibility barriers. Educational institutions have faced litigation over the inaccessibility of Google Apps. In March 2011 the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Justice against Northwestern University and New York University (plus four school districts in Oregon) for violating Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by adopting Google Apps.

Accessibility Barriers

The University of Minnesota Accessibility Standard describes barriers. They are:

  • Google Apps hide, display, or otherwise manipulate screen content using a scripting language called "AJAX" that is only supported by certain browsers and screen readers.
  • The changing of content in a location disparate from the activating control or action may not be perceived by screen reader users and users with low vision, information tracking impairments, or other learning disabilities.
  • Labels for form elements are often reported incorrectly or not at all.
  • Keyboard-only navigation is often difficult or impossible.
  • Collaboration may be difficult for screen reader users and users with learning disabilities, as information may change or pop-up in a variety of locations.

Tools and Tips for Google Apps

North Carolina State (NCS) offers a solid collection of Google apps accessibility information:

Greg Kraus of NCS has developed a Google Doc to Microsoft Office Bookmarklet. It is a useful tool to convert a Google doc into a Word document. As the NCS web page states:

Some assistive technology users are unable to use the Google Docs user interface. Often times it is more convenient for them to download the Google Doc into its corresponding Microsoft Office file format. It is possible to do this from within a Google Doc by going to the application's "File" menu and choosing "Download as". However, even this task can be difficult for some assistive technology users because of the lack of support for their assistive technology within Google Docs. This tool provides a convenient way to download a Google Doc into its corresponding Microsoft Office file format.

According to Google documentation (PDF) people using assistive technology to interact with Google Apps will have the best experience using Google Chrome with the ChromeVox screen reader extension.

Best Practices

The University of Minnesota Accessibility Standard illuminates helpful best practices. They are to:

  • Consider the accessibility barriers of the Google App to be used and which types of disabilities may be affected.
  • Allow the use of alternative software to accomplish the same tasks being done with Google Apps.
  • Consider avoiding the use of Google Apps to provide access to educational material, if Google Apps is the only means of access.
  • Consider a change in pedagogy to include small group participation, eliminating the need for an individual with a disability to interact directly with a Google app.

Further Information

For further information please consult the Google Accessibility and Google Litigation sections of the accessibility page of the Web Design Reference site.