Sunday, October 30, 2011

Beyond accessibility in Google+ hangouts

A recent post on Google+ got me thinking about how to improve the accessibility of Google+

I work for Monash University as part of the team integrating Google Apps with university systems. As an educational establishment in Australia we are subject to strict rules regarding the accessibility of the services we provide to students. That being said, I am not an expert, nor do I act in an advisory role to Monash for accessibility, there are far more knowledgeable people providing that role, as such, this post is my own, possibly uninformed thoughts on a subject which I find interesting.

Google have a massive opportunity with Google+ to get accessibility right. While Google wave was a fantastic experiment they didn't give enough thought to accessibility, and putting it in as an afterthought was never going to end well.

Hangouts are one of the killer features of Google+. They do however bring their own set of accessibility challenges, and some huge opportunities.

Google already have speech to text technology as demonstrated in Android. This could be integrated with hangouts to build a system of automatic captioning, such that deaf users could read what was being said.

This technology could then be integrated with Google translate. Again, this has already been demonstrated in Android. If coupled with hangouts we could have a system whereby users could communicate face to face across language barriers.

I like the idea that hangouts can be conducted in sign language, and that those users can grab the active view easily, but why stop there? Taking this much further, could Google develop a system to interpret sign language and give a text equivalent to those unable to understand it themselves.
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