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Google updates Drive and Docs editors for the visually impaired

by Mark Tyson on 12 September 2014, 12:00

Tags: Google (NASDAQ:GOOG)

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Google has announced an accessibility update to Google Drive and all its productivity apps including Docs, Sheets, Slides, Drawings and Forms. This update was specifically developed with "blind and low-vision users" in mind.

The company's Engineering VP Alan Warren wrote that "everyone, regardless of ability, should be able to experience all that the web has to offer." The Internet Search giant collaborated with experts including the National Federation of the Blind and the University of Michigan in order to improve its screen reader and implement Braille support, along with other updates.

The updated screen reader will provide users enhanced text-to-voice verbalisation. Other new features that bring better support across all Google productivity editors include:

  • Support for alt text on images in Docs, so you can tell a screen reader what they should say to describe an image
  • Better support for using a keyboard to edit charts and pivot tables in Sheets
  • Additional screen reader improvements specifically for Docs, Sheets and Slides, including support for spelling suggestions, comments and revision history
  • The ability to quickly search the menus and perform actions in Docs, Slides and Drawings (and soon Sheets and Forms)—even if you don’t know the action's key sequence.

Helpfully, the screen reader will now announce when people enter or leave document editing, whilst letting the user hear what others are editing alongside you. A refreshable Braille display will not only allow users to read and enter texts in Google's editors, the screen reader's settings for character echoing are also automatically followed. The lag between when a key is pressed and when it's announced has also been reduced dramatically. Finally the announcement of punctuation and whitespace is also improved.

Google has kindly added a step-by-step guide for its new Braille display feature, and users can also access the 'Help' menu inside each application if they ever get stuck. The company is offering phone support for Google Drive accessibility questions, and you can request a phone call from here.