How accessible are Google Apps?

  • The inability to navigate messages in a conversation easily;
  • The inability to attach files to an eMail message; and
  • The inability to schedule meeting times between multiple participants.

Because of these and other factors, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) filed complaints in March 2011 with the U.S. Department of Justice against Northwestern University and New York University, as well as four K-12 school districts in Oregon, for violating Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act by adopting Google Apps.

In January 2012, the NFB formally declared that Google Apps are “not there yet” in terms of accessibility.

“Because of these and many other problems,” says the report on Google Docs, “which prevent entire populations of people from fully or sometimes even partially using the software, Documents and the Document List cannot be considered accessible.”

The report on GMail and Calendar says that while both offer “more accessible” interface options for users of screen readers, “even those prove lacking in some fundamental areas. Other than performing some base-level operations in each application, neither GMail nor Calendar can be considered equitably accessible to all user groups, especially for the visually impaired.”

Yet, since the reports were published, Thompson explained, notable improvement have been made—specifically with High Contrast Mode (Chrome extension), ChromeVox, Keyboard-Only, Read & Write Gold (vendor solution), and Dragon Naturally Speaking (vendor solution).

“There are still a lot of questions we have surrounding accessibility issues and Google, and we don’t really have any answers. Questions like: ‘Why do Chrome solutions work better? Is it marketing or technical limitations?’ We really have no good answers, but hopefully these functions will only improve.”

Currently, there are two online manuals available from Google that can help users navigate accessible functions: “Administrator Guide to Accessibility” and “An update on Apps accessibility in the last year.

Thompson also pointed to North Carolina State University’s guide on “Google Apps Accessibility,” which provides accessibility usage guidelines.

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