That’s the most accurate way that Google Wave (not to be confused with the original WAVE) accessibility can be summarized. It must be disclaimed that this is a very early preview release of Google Wave, and functionality and accessibility will certainly be improved along the way. Still, it is rather disheartening to see no attention paid to accessibility. For example:
- Alternative text is not provided for any images.
- Background images are used to convey content.
- Roles, states, and other accessibility properties are not defined.
- There is no document or heading structure or semantics. None! Not even a list!
- Form elements do not have labels or titles.
- Keyboard focus indication is hidden, making keyboard navigation nearly impossible.
- Most interactive elements are not in the tab order or do not respond to keyboard activation.
- Keyboard focus is often trapped, requiring the page or browser to be closed to resume keyboard navigation.
- The application becomes unusable and unreadable when text size is increased only slightly.
… and I think you get the general idea. One positive point – the welcome and introductory videos are captioned.
Despite it’s rudimentary nature, e-mail continues to pose a relatively significant accessibility issue to users with disabilities. This is primarily due to its dual-threaded nature – meaning that messages can have replies, but the content of replies often takes an entirely different form. The response text of a particular e-mail might be top-posted, bottom-posted, or intermingled throughout the original message. This complexity is compounded by the fact that participants can join or leave the e-mail discussion at any point.
Google Wave does a wonderful job of addressing these issues by presenting the conversation in a way that does not rely on threads or quoted replies. The entire history of a conversation can be viewed or replayed. Conversation participants can join or leave along the way without losing context, history, or content. Additionally, Google Wave adds real-time interactivity and collaboration to the communication.
In short, the potential for Google Wave to streamline and enhance communication for people with disabilities, especially screen reader users, is great. Could Google Wave be made accessible? I believe it could be. I would never advocate that accessibility constraints should limit innovation – indeed many of the most accessible technologies now available started as accessibility black holes. Of course it is always easier and better to implement accessibility as part of innovation, something clearly lacking in this case.
With ARIA and modern-day user agents and screen readers, Google Wave can be made accessible and become a powerful tool that ALL users can enjoy and benefit from – and people with disabilities have particular need for such enhanced communication tools. With a bit of education or guidance, and typical Google ingenuity, Google Wave has great potential to not only be a wonderful tool, but a wonderfully accessible tool.
(Contact the author through Google Wave at firstname.lastname@example.org)