Can Google’s Guide For The Blind Do More?

A month after launching Accessible Search for the visually-impaired, Google is contemplating user-feedback and deciding where to go next.

Can Google help the learning-disabled or the elderly with their searches? Google research scientist TV Raman believes the answer is yes.

That’s because with technology, the solution to one problem can solve other problems too, Raman told

Before engineering Accessible Search, TV’s problem was that Google’s search engine did not always come up with the most relevant sites for searchers who, like him, are blind — or as Raman likes to say, “photon-independent.”

Blind and visually-impaired Web users rely on a set of tools, such as audio screen readers, to navigate the Web. Accessible Search elevates the sites that are accessible with those tools.

But not all sites, or even Google Search results, are particularly friendly to those tools.

Accessible Search is built on Google’s Co-op technology, which is a network of various sites by experts and organizations to which users can subscribe and contribute.

Subscribing to Accessible Search is like having a Co-op expert in accessibility for the visually impaired, except that the expert is an algorithm and does not need to have already visited the site.

The service has been available in Google Labs for over a month now and Raman said feedback has largely been positive.

But a few of the responses have him wanting to do more.

“There have been a lot of requests from people saying, ‘So you”ve done this Accessible Search, but you’ve only done it for blind and visually-impaired users. What about other disabilities?’ That’s a very valid question,” Raman said.

As an engineer, Raman’s next step would be to use the current solution to solve similar problems.

“The easiest next thing to do are things in the periphery of what you’ve already done,” he said.

He pointed to elderly Internet users who don’t necessarily think of themselves as visually-impaired, but yet nonetheless find very busy sites hard to handle. There is also the color-blind.

Raman said a Google Co-op “expert” algorithm could look for sites that the learning-disabled might find to easier to understand.

For now, Raman said he’s happy with Google’s progress, but not entirely satisfied.

“There are a lot of things we could improve on,” Raman said. “A lot of our newest services have accessibility issues.”

He said Gmail had a particularly difficult interface to access. And, he said, it took too long for Google too solve what he called the “embarrassing” lack of audio CAPTCHAs , a technique used by a computer to tell if it is interacting with a human or another computer.

But that accessibility problem was solved, Raman said. And so was another on Google Maps. Raman said he’s lately been onto another idea that takes advantage of syndication technologies and how they separate content from a user-interface. He remains optimistic.

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