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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Google Accessibility

Whether you need an email account, a search engine or a site to
post blogs, Google seems to be the place to go. You can even
host a Google Group or talk to friends on Google Talk IM. The
world "Google" is used in daily conversation. You can "Google" a
friend and no one thinks you are doing something weird or

I use many of these services that are offered by Google. I
love Google. For the most part, it's quite accessible for people
who are blind. They can use a speech reader, enlarged print
or a braille display and be able to do so much with Google.
It's even accessible on the DBC. That, alone, is something that
makes Google extra special.

There are still some accessibility issues with Google services.
It's just little things that cause problems. But these small
things are frustrating and make it hard for people who are blind
to benefit from Google the same way as everyone else. That's
what I want to discuss now.

First of all, I use Blog Spot for my blogging needs. Like
Blogger, this is a Google blog site. What I really like about
Blog Spot is that I can write my stories offline and then post
them as blog via email. It's so much easier for me to do blogs
this way.

The problem I'm experiencing has to do with managing comments.
Some people have complained that it is hard to post comments on
my blog site. That is true and I am sorry for the trouble. But
there are reasons why I want to review comments before they are

Part of this has to do with hoping to avoid my ex-husband online.
That's why this blog is anonymous. I'm trying to make it as
hard as possible for him to find me. So I need to moderate
comments to make sure people do not accidently reveal my
identity. I'm just trying to be careful here.

It's also a way to cut out spam before it gets posted. My blog
isn't even a major site and I still get spammed sometimes. I
suppose I would have to sort through messages to find and
remove spam anyway. I might as well do it before it gets posted.

There is one annoying person who keeps sending comments in some
foreign language. My friend says it looks like Chines. She even
tried to translate it but it's just nonsense. I get one of these
stupid messages for every blog I write. What a pain!

Now for the accessibility problem. I can log into Google and
find my blog. I can access the pages that allows me to modify or
manage my own blog. I can even find the list of pending
comments that need to be reviewed and either published or

What I can not do is read those comments. The list shows only
the first sentence of each comment. There's no way to access the
whole message using Jaws.

My friend looked at it for me. She says it's supposed to be a
link and there is a little arrow you can click on to see the
whole comment. But in Jaws, there is no link and no way to use
that arrow. All you get is the first sentence of the comment and
nothing else. How am I supposed to review the comment if I can
only see one sentence?

My friend found a Jaws emulator that allows a sighted person to
"see" everything the way it appears using Jaws. This helps her
assist me when I have computer problems. But she could find no
way to make the entire comment appear I have to ask her to
review comments for me. I hate this because I really want to be
able to do it myself.

Another issue has to do with Google Groups. Most people probably
do not know this, but there was recently a big problem for those
of us who are subscribed to deaf-blind related email lists.
There used to be tons of these lists hosted on a listserv that
was run by WEstern Oregon University (WOU). However, it was
decided that the listserv could only be used for groups that
match the mission statement of the WOU office that manages the
listserv. That meant almost all of the groups had to find a new

Google Groups and Yahoo Groups were the two main choices. There
are many accessibility issues with Yahoo, so most of the email
lists moved to Google Groups. I am on several of these lists
that had to move. I also own and moderate my own group.

What I dislike about Google Groups is that you can't manage your
own account via email. You can receive messages in email. You
can subscribe and unsubscribe using email. But you can't change
your subscription options through email. If you need to go "no
mail" or want to change to digest form, you must log onto the
Google Groups web site. Some deaf-blind people are unable to
access the web. They either do not have the technology or they
don't have the skills and training. So if they want to change
their account, they must ask the moderator to do it for them.
This bothers me. If WOU listserv could do it all via email,
Google Groups certainly could, too.

Some of the moderators of the new deaf-blind Google Groups have
complained that there is no way to set a daily posting limit.
For example, they might want their group set so that each member
can only post five messages per day or ten or whatever. This
helps control list traffic.

I, personally, do not like this kind of daily limit. I'm a
chatterbox and hate it when I am silenced by such a posting
rule. Yet, there's a valid reason for list moderators to set a
posting restriction. Many people who are braille readers or use
enlarged print can only read so much at a time. They may read
very slow or their eyes might tire easily. They can't keep up
with extremely active lists. The message limit helps control
the list and ensure that it does not get overly active and too
much for members to keep up with. On Google Groups, it's
impossible to set a posting limit.

These are small problems. Reading comments... changing settings
via email... setting a post restriction for a list... Yet they
are big issues, too. Anytime there is an accessibility issue, it
is a serious problem. I sincerely hope that Google will look
into these problems and make the needed changes. As important as
Google is in this modern world of ours, we need to ensure equal
access for all Google users. And I mean "ALL" - sighted people,
Jaws users, people who listen to speech output, those who use
enlarged print and also braille readers. Everyone needs the
same access to Google. It's only fair.

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