Google Docs will never become a dominant word processor unless…

You guessed it, they make their interface accessible. If you are not able to use a mouse or see the screen, you are basically out of luck when it comes to Google Docs. The best you can do is read what others have wrote, and even that is a bit awkward.

Granted, it will not be easy for Google to substantially alter this situation with current popular techniques, but it should be made a lot simpler with the Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA) standard being worked on by the The World Wide Web Consortium.

For those who are not aware, ARIA is a proposed standard which, among other things, seeks to bridge the gap in communication between the screen reader and dynamic web applications. It allows you to tell a screenreader user, for example, that a particular element on the page is a drop-down menu, add enhanced keyboard functionality, and draw the users attention to elements that change. It is a very promising standard which is already seeing some support in the latest versions of screen readers, and a few of the very recently released browsers.

But getting back to Google, I believe that inaccessibility will very likely hold them back in the market. It is true that the vast majority of users don’t even know what accessibility is, and if they do, they probably don’t pay it much attention. So how could it substantially effect them in the market? There seems to be a growing trend within a few companies, but more within government, to discourage the usage of inaccessible products when accessible alternatives exist. I believe that at least some of the efforts being put forth by companies to make their products more accessible can be directly attributed to these regulations and policies. Of course, I don’t wish to imply that it’s entirely a business decision, as I am sure many companies do it because they care. However, having a little market pressure never hurts.

Right now, Microsoft Office works great with any screenreader worth speaking of, and if you’re the person responsible for deciding what software your organization will use and you have a mandate to consider accessibility in your decision, MS Office has a big advantage that might be difficult to overcome.

Nevertheless, because of the afore mentioned market pressure, and because of Google’s promising history of making virtually all of their other web applications accessible, I am quite optimistic that I too will soon have the opportunity to use Google Docs.

posted by Aaron Cannon on Friday, May 30, 2008
tagged with accessibility, google, web, aria, docs