Google Enhances Search for Visually Impaired

Google has launched a new service for the visually and learning impaired designed to make search easier by ranking search results according to how clean, or easy-to-read the Web pages are.

Called Accessible Search, Google’s latest tweak to its search engine comes out of Google Labs. According to its FAQ section, Accessible Search looks at a number of signals when ranking the pages, by examining the HTML markup found on a Web page.

The algorithms tend to favor pages that degrade gracefully — that is, those pages with few visual distractions and that are still readable or easy to navigate even with images turned off. Google Accessible Search is built on Google Co-op’s technology, which improves search results based on specialized interests, according to the firm.

Ranking CRM

The search technology is not perfect, though. A search for CRM on the Accessible Search page puts Sage at the top of the list, which is not encumbered with paid ads. On Google’s standard search page, is the first entry, following three or four advertisements.

So far, so good — both companies are leading vendors in the space and the returns are relevant. Some seven items from the top on the Accessible Search page for CRM, however, is listed an organization called The Centre for Research on Mothering, followed by an organization for senior citizens.

Online Innovations

Slowly the online community is introducing new innovations to help the visually impaired and people with reading disorders navigate the Web, said Matt Booth, senior consultant with The Kelsey Group. Unfortunately most of these advances are not perfect.

For instance, the Hotmail and Yahoo free e-mail accounts have been experimenting with technology that allows sight-impaired users to type in numbers instead of the difficult-to-read letters that the systems randomly throw out to make sure the user is not a spammer or some automated program.

“You can hit a button and listen to the numbers and then type them in,” Booth told TechNewsWorld. The drawback is that this change also makes it easier for hackers to sign up for thousands of accounts at one shot — exactly what the original verification method was trying to prevent.

Other changes, though, have been generally positive as people are made aware of the limitations of some old methods. Booth notes that many heavily trafficked Web sites such for instance, have been adding functionality and changing design patterns to help visually-impaired users dissect what is on the screen, Booth noted. This is done either on their own or via the voice-assisted technology that has been developed for blind computer users, he added.

“People have been complaining that sites are hard to read and site owners are responding,” Booth said.

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