WebAIM - Web Accessibility In Mind

Google Steps Forward

Google Accessible Search has been released. It is “designed to identify and prioritize search results that are more easily usable by blind and visually impaired users.” Hurray to Google for providing this useful tool.

Google Accessible Search provides a simple, scaled down interface. Results are also simple and lack the “sponsored links” section found to the right of Google’s regular search results. The main page also lacks all the javascript extras found on Google’s regular search home page. In looking through the results, standards compliant and accessible sites are clearly favored. Our own site seems to be favored on many accessibility and technology terms over less accessible sites. Google Accessible Search looks at “a given page’s simplicity” and “how much visual imagery it carries”. It also checks for keyboard accessibility. The result sets seem to strike a nice balance between relevance and accessibility, and they even seem to exclude the most inaccessible sites.

The “Accessible Web Search for the Visually Challenged”, (“challenged” probably isn’t the most appropriate wording here) is targeted for those with visual disabilities only. While the interface is simple, it lacks flavor. Google’s web pages were never really cluttered to begin with. By dropping the Google logo image and the blue background on the separator between the search box and the search results, the page looks reminiscent of other boring text-only pages with no real added benefit. Without the ads on the right side of the screen, the text under each search result covers the whole width of the browser. These issues could be a hindrance to people with low vision.

Most of the advanced search options, such as language, file type, and results per page, are not available. Providing these options in an external page would be a welcome addition in making the results more customizable and useful to the unique needs of blind users. Users can still use the Web Search Features directly in the search input box if they are aware of them.

The Accessible Search FAQ recommends adhering to W3C standards for creating accessible web pages, yet the Google search pages are not HTML compliant themselves. The main interface now include an XHTML 1.0 Transitional DOCTYPE, alt text, and form labels, but the search results page still lacks these features.

Google Accessible Search is a step in the right direction, perhaps giving extra incentive to developers to create web sites with accessibility in mind. According to Google’s T.V. Ramen, “this is still an early-stage experiment, and we hope to improve the product’s quality over the next few months…” While this version of Google search is ideal for screen reader users, others may find the simple interface and accessible, standards-compliant search results a welcome alternative to Google’s primary search product.

Also see CNET’s review of Google Accessible Search and T.V. Ramen’s Google blog.

UPDATE: Google’s “Accessible Web Search for the Visually Challenged” is now “Accessible Web Search for the Visually Impaired“. So they now get a C instead of an D- for political correctness, but apparently still do not see the vision of the benefits this tool can have on many other PEOPLE with disabilities.


  1. Shrirang

    This tool is indeed a very good effort and will certainly help visually challenged users cutting down the time required to reach the right information…
    Itíll help visual users as well to search faster.
    If google integrates this feature in its primary search; need for business websites to adhere to web accessibility standards will be automatically enforced.

  2. Rosie Sherry

    It may be a step forward, however the results may not currently be anymore relevant or easier than the standard version.

    I’m based in the UK, and would therefore use the UK google option (www.google.co.uk). Doing a search on ‘news’ would bring BBC top of the list, as expected. Now if I were to use Google Accessible Search for the same search, the results would not be what I am looking for.

    So whilst the idea is great, and it is a big step forward, until additional features are added it is in effect isolating the product to US users.

    I welcome the idea of innovating to make the web an easier place to use, however am not convinced by creating seperate versions for different types of user. I believe the best solution would be to create one single search which is accessible and usable to all.

    Rosie Sherry