Cal State Panel Questions Accessibility of Google Apps

June 23, 2011

California State University on Wednesday released the results of a months-long evaluation of the accessibility, for students with disabilities, of Google Apps for Education, a popular suite of software tools used by approximately half of nonprofit colleges. "The applications tested had varying levels of accessibility; most had significant accessibility problems which inhibit users of assistive technology from successful, regular use of the products," wrote the task force members, who since last fall had been testing various features -- Google Mail Chat, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Sites -- that Google provides to colleges with its Google Apps suite.

However, despite these findings, the California State task force stopped short of recommending that colleges refrain from using Google Apps. Instead, the committee recommend a series or "workarounds" and "best practices" to help minimize the disadvantages of students with disabilities. "Due to the extent of the accessibility issues discovered, limiting use (when possible) of Google Documents, Spreadsheets, Presentations, Forms, Calendar, Sites and Gmail Chat in large group, student-centric or public-facing activities is recommended until native accessibility of those products improves. In addition, limiting the use of Google Documents, Spreadsheets, Presentations and Calendar to administrative or back-office applications or activities is recommended when possible."

This is not the first time anyone has flagged accessibility barriers in Google's popular campus software: In March, students filed civil rights complaints against New York University and Northwestern University after those institutions adopted Google Apps. The U.S. Department of Education also recently warned colleges against adopting "emerging technologies" that discriminate against students with disabilities.

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