Most people have trouble imagining what it might be like to use the Web if they were blind, color-blind, or had difficulty seeing. Text which is perfectly readable to sighted people can be virtually impossible to decipher for the visually impaired. Many people just assume screen-magnification utilities solve the problem, but they don’t help if a user is completely blind; furthermore, trying to take in an entire Web page by focusing in on only small area at a time is time-consuming and exhausting. Screen-readers solve the problem for the blind and dyslexic, yes? Not so fast: can you imagine having to surf the Web with someone reading every page to you? And not a net-savvy person, mind you: an automated reader with a murky voice and bad pronunciation which often has to read every link and navigation item, and which has trouble distinguishing between the content you want and the ads you don’t? Or worse: a site completely built using Flash, which a reader can’t decipher and may be pumping loud, annoying music.
Google Labs is testing Google Accessible Search, and new service designed to improve Web searching for blind and visually impaired Internet users. Google Accessible Search uses Google’s standard page-ranking technology to order search results, but also factors in an assessment of the overall accessibility of each search result, putting more-accessible pages at the top of the hit list, favoring pages with less visual distractions, viable keyboard navigation, and which are likely to display well without images. It’s not a complete service