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Google improves its products for disabled people and adds a connect feature

Sites include . Published on March 6th, 2013. Written by Loic Cobbina.

This week Google announced at the CSUN International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference that a number of new features have been added to the Chrome browser, the Chrome Operating System, the Gmail service and Google drive to enable Google products to be much easier to use for blind and low-vision individuals. On top of that Google also launched an app that can be used for sign language interpretation and keyboard shortcut for individuals that are deaf or can’t hear properly. Those who prefer to use keyboard while on the Hangout were not left out.

Google has explained that the Chrome OS now offers a high-quality text to speech voice. This particular feature is only available in English for now. The operating system now has a screen magnification feature and a high contrast mode. Gmail has also been redesigned and showcases a new navigation interface that integrates keyboard shortcuts. The shortcuts are said to use HTML5 ARIA standard. The idea is to create a situation where rich internet apps are more accessible.

Google added that the Drive service is also more accessible by the use of the keyboard. For example in “Docs” users can access features just by using the keyboard. The search menu and toolbar have been redesigned. They have included verbalization improvement that allows users not only to use the shortcuts but also use a screen reader to make the Docs, Sheet and Slides much easier to access.

The stable version of Chrome browser, according to Google, now offers support for Web Speech API. This will allow developers to integrate speech recognition into their future apps. A demonstration was made to show how the ReadNow ebook reader could be used to read ebooks from the Bookshare library. The software relied on the speech API to be able to perform the task.

The biggest search engine company has also thought of coming up with something for people that rely on sign language to communicate. The Hangout Interpreter App does not translate by itself though, but it allows users who might want a sign language interpreter, to invite one. The live video from the interpreter will show separately on the top right corner of the window.

Aside features that have been released to improve the whole Google experience, the latest new app that Google hopes to take over the world with is the new “Google+ Sign in”. On Tuesday Google announced the rollout of its new global authentication scheme, a sign in feature similar to the Facebook Connect and like one would expect, it automatically shares activities happening on the third-party apps with your Google+ community.

Google sees that application as a new way for the developers to connect to the larger Google experience. By integrating this authentication system into their apps they should be able to tap into the information shared in the Google API. At the basic level, the information shared has to do with the name of the user, profile picture, language, people in their circle and other public information that the app might request for. The third-party app can even request access to other Google service outside of Google + like Gmail and Calendar but that will require a consent from the user via a separate dialog box.

The launch of this new feature also raises concern for users who might worry about their privacy. But according to Seth Sternberg, the level of control given by this new app has not yet been seen in the market. He is the Product Management Director at Google +.

According to Google Executives, the user’s protection begins at the two step authentication process that exist when he signs in to Google + or any other app. Inside the app, the user still has control over who sees his activities. By contrast to Facebook Connect, users are not always properly informed about who will be able to see what they are sharing. The sign-in app from Google will allow users to choose which circle they are willing to share their activities with and they even have the option to shares those activities only with themselves.

The user also has the choice to change the sharing settings of the activities if later on he changes his mind about how his activities are shared.

According to David Glazer, Google+ Engineering Director, this new feature is one step in the right direction for Google + for which the original idea is to transform it into a social layer through which all Google products are connected. With this move, Google is stepping more into Facebook’s territory. This clearly shows that the war between the two social networks is not over yet.

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