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Accessible View: An ARIA for web search

From time to time, our own T.V. Raman shares his tips on how to use Google from his perspective as a technologist who cannot see -- tips that sighted people, among others, may also find useful. In the spirit of a recent post discussing some of our search experiments, last week we launched an opt-in search experiment we're calling Accessible View, which makes it easy to navigate search results using only the keyboard.
Like many of our recent accessibility-related enhancements, this experiment is built using the basic functionality provided by W3C ARIA and Google-AxsJAX, an evolving set of HTML DOM properties that enable adaptive technologies to work better with AJAX-style applications.

The Accessible View experiment is another step toward making our search results more accessible for everyone. In July 2006, we launched Accessible Search on Google Labs, where the goal was to help visually impaired users find content that worked well with adaptive technologies. We continue to refine and tune the ranking on Accessible Search. And with Accessible View, users can easily toggle between regular Google search results and Accessible Search results by using the 'A' and 'W' keys.

When we designed the Accessible View interface, we first looked at how people used screen readers and other adaptive technologies when performing standard search-related tasks. We then asked how many of these actions we could eliminate to speed up the search process. The result: a set of keyboard shortcuts for effectively navigating the results page, and to arrange for the user's adaptive technology to speak the right information during navigation.

We've also added a magnification lens that highlights the user's selected search result. Since launching Accessible Search, one of the most requested features has been support for low-vision users. While implementing the keyboard navigation described here, we incorporated the magnification lens first introduced by Google Reader.

Bringing it all together, we implemented keyboard shortcuts that extend what was originally pioneered by the keyboard shortcuts experiment. These shortcuts help users navigate through different parts of the results page with a minimal number of keystrokes. The left and right arrows cycle through the various categories of items on the page (e.g., results, ads, or search refinements), and the up and down arrow keys move through the current category. Power users can leave their hands on the home row by using the h, j, k, and l keys. In addition, we enable an infinite stream of results viewed through the n and p keys — so you can move through the results without getting disoriented by a page refresh after the first 10 results.

Key Behavior
j/k next/previous result
n/p next/previous result, scroll if necessary
enter open current result
up/down next/previous result
left/right switch categories (results, ads, refinements)
a jump to ads
A switch to Accessible Search results
W switch to default Google results
r jump to related searches


Try out the experiment and give us your feedback.

Posted by T.V. Raman, Research Scientist, and Charles L. Chen, Software Engineer

Posted by T.V. Raman, Research Scientist, and Charles L. Chen, Software Engineer

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