Google Apps :: Avoiding Accessibility Pitfalls

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Accessibility and Google Apps became an issue recently when complaints of discrimination were filed against New York University and Northwestern University. The complaints charged that the schools’ Google Apps implementations were not fully compatible with text-to-speech conversion technology, thus discriminating against students who are blind.

CSU policy requires that HSU, and all other campuses in the CSU system, provide an equivalent experience for people with disabilities. Given this requirement, and our desire to provide the best experience for all of our students, we’ve put together the recommendations below for using Google Apps appropriately in your curriculum.

What you can do

HSU chose Google Apps for a good reason – they’re flexible, extensible, powerful, and cost-effective. There’s a lot to appreciate about them. They are also continually evolving, and that’s part of what’s happening here. Google has embarked on an aggressive plan to improve the accessibility of their software but, in the meantime, offering an alternative helps ensure that all of your students can effectively access your instructional materials and participate fully in the class. 

If you are planning to have your students use Google Apps, consider the following:

  • Google Docs: OffiSync for Google Apps lets you use Microsoft Word to open and edit Google Docs, so students can use familiar editing tools to interact with documents.
  • File Sharing: As an alternative to sharing files via Google, you can post them on Moodle, or use Network Folders to share them with your students via your faculty folder. Students can access these files in the same way they would using a lab computer or other software from home.
  • Calendars: Students can sync Google calendars to almost any calendar program they’re comfortable with, ensuring they won’t miss out on any important dates or events. 
  • Sites: Google Sites has some serious accessibility issues, both in using the application and in the pages it creates. Students can use whatever web editing software they wish if they instead create pages on the HSU User Web

If you’ve come across or come up with any workarounds or other ideas not listed here, drop us a note at help@humboldt.edu and we’ll make sure everyone gets to hear about it.

Where to get help

For help and advice on specific Google Apps accessibility issues, contact:

This information was drawn from an evaluation of Google Apps performed by staff and faculty at CSU Channel Islands. You can read the full Google Apps evaluation report on the CSU website

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