Is Google Apps Accessible?

DO-IT Factsheet #481
http://www.washington.edu/doit/Stem/articles?481

Google Apps [1] is a free suite of hosted communication and collaboration applications that includes Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk, Google Docs, and Google Sites. Google Apps Education Edition [2] is a bundle of apps specifically marketed to education institutions. Whether Google Apps is accessible is a question of considerable debate.

Google expresses a commitment to accessibility on its Google Accessibility [3] website, and provides a series of pages that include detailed instructions for how to use accessibility features of Google products [4].

However, in March 2011 the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) expressed a different opinion. They submitted a formal request that the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, investigate New York University and Northwestern University for civil rights violations committed by these institutions by having adopted Google Apps. The NFB Complaint [5] alleged that Google Apps contains "significant accessibility barriers for blind people utilizing screen access technology". As evidence of these barriers, NFB produced a set of Google Accessibility Demonstration Videos [6].

The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article on the topic titled Colleges Discriminate Against the Blind With Google Apps, Advocates Say [7].

Web2Access, a project in the United Kingdom funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), has conducted independent accessibility reviews of some of the components that comprise the Google Apps suite, including Google Docs [8], Google Sites [9], and Google Calendar [10]. Each of these products was reviewed most recently in August 2009. In that review, Google Docs and Google Site each received an average test rating of 67%, while Google Calendar received a slightly lower average rating of 58%. Google Sites and Google Calendar were found to be especially difficult to use for individuals with dexterity/mobility -related disabilities (34% and 33% respectively). These ratings are calculated from scores assigned from a set of 30 manual and automatic checks.

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