Why Google Comes to LightHouse for the Blind

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Here at the LightHouse, we visit a lot of tech companies to find out first hand what they’re up to, how their offices look and feel, and ultimately to foster an open, nuanced conversation about what they are working on.

Last week was a little different because, on the occasion of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, Google visited us instead. Ben Davison, a user experience researcher at Google, came to our office in San Francisco to chat with blind and low vision smartphone users about what works well for them and what could be improved when it comes to the Google product. This, we believe, underscores one of the most crucial take-home points of designing good, accessible tech — that is, just showing up and listening.

Ben’s work does not focus exclusively on accessibility but generally on improving the experience of technology for all users. On Thursday, he carried out what we hope will be the first of many usability studies with some of our current and former students, running them through everyday Google searches, then observing and recording to see where screen readers or magnifying software ran into trouble.

So what prompted this visit from our neighbor? The LightHouse has resources that Google wants to tap into: specifically a vast network of accessibility users, thinkers and innovators under one roof.

”Imagine you wanted to test your product with five people who use screen magnifiers,” says Ben. “In order to go about this, you would have to find your users in the area, build trust, collect five study agreements, work out transportation to the site, provide an accessible test site, and work out transportation back home. “

“The LightHouse has all of these on tap: a strong network, trust, a convenient location, and an accessible place. These kinds of partnerships are invaluable to a researcher like myself in understanding the needs of our users.”

Ben received his PhD from Georgia Tech with a focus on accessibility and spent time at the Center for the Visually Impaired in Atlanta. This experience has undoubtedly given him a special insight into the value of good accessibility for this community of avid technology users, and we’re glad to see that Google values this, too.

We look forward to the next time we can get together with Google, and more people like Ben from other tech companies, to share ideas and feedback on improving these valuable tools in a way that just works for everyone.

If you’re a technology developer, a visually impaired person, or just a conscientious user, please don’t hesitate to contact us about how you can benefit from our services.

Follow us on Twitter and read more at Google Accessibilitiy.