Google Kicks Off Global Disability Initiative
By John M. Williams
Being true to its commitment to making
accessibility a core consideration for its products, Google has started a
program to address the needs of a billion people with disabilities worldwide,
and its putting $20 million behind the effort.
Google.org is the companys
charitable arm. According to Google, the money is being offered to nonprofits
using emerging technologies to increase independence for people living
Google has formed a central accessibility
team with a mandate to monitor the state of accessibility of Google products
and coordinate accessibility training, testing and consulting. Product teams
will be offered training to help incorporate accessibility principles into the
design and release of products. The company claims that it strives to cultivate
relationships with a variety of users and advocacy groups to solicit
The initiative, Google Impact Challenge:
Disabilities, will seek out nonprofits and help them find new solutions to some
serious issues facing the disabled community. The company is asking people with
disabilities to suggest problems that they would like to see addressed with the
We will choose the best of these
ideas and help them to scale by investing in their vision, by rallying our
people and by mobilizing our resources in support of their missions,
Jacquelline Fuller, director of Google.org, said in a blog post.
Some of the what if questions
Google is asking include:
What if stairs were no longer an
What if everyone could afford the
prosthetics they need?
What if blind people and those with visual
impairment could cross the street more easily?
What if people with tremors could eat more
What if public transportation never left
anyone behind for lack of accessibility?
What if everyone knew how to be
comfortable with people with disabilities?
The program has its critics. One man, who
wished to remain anonymous, said: One seventh of the worlds
population has a disability. Google thinks 20 million dollars will solve the
problem. Fifty times that number still wont have a significant impact on
the worlds disability population.
Historically, people living with
disabilities have relied on technologies that were often bulky, expensive and
limited to assisting with one or two specific tasks, she wrote in a blog
post. But thats beginning to change. Together, we can create a
better world faster.
According to its website, Google actively
promotes an accessible World Wide Web by serving on standards and advisory
committees, including the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), one of
the most widely accepted international standards for accessibility, and the
Video Programming Accessibility Advisory Committee (VPAAC), a panel created by
the FCC to develop recommendations for increasing accessibility to video
content in various forms.
Google has already committed funding to
two groups: the Enable Community Foundation, which links people needing
prosthetics with volunteers who use 3D printers to create them at no cost, and
World Wide Hearing, which will use the funds to develop a low-cost kit to
detect hearing loss using smartphone technology.
In addition to its monetary commitment,
Google said it will work to ensure accessibility of its own products and add
new offerings that benefit people with disabilities.
To make it easier for companies,
educational institutions and government agencies to comply with accessibility
standards, Google uses the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template, which
provides transparent information about how its products currently work for
people with disabilities. Google continues to update this site as additional
VPAT documentation is available.
Advisers for the new project include
autism self-advocate Temple Grandin and Catalina Aguilar, the United
Nations special rapporteur (reporter) on the rights of persons with
John M. Williams can be reached at