The multi-billion-dollar colossus known as Google doesn’t care about accessibility and cannot even bother to do a good job pretending it does. I attribute this to hiring thousands upon thousands of young programmers who are borderline autistics. Combine a paucity of life experience with an intrinsic inability to empathize with others and the result is Google. (The infantilizing corporate décor and cradle-to-grave services offer even more of a disincentive to design products for people who aren’t exactly like you.)

Now we have this item with the curious title “Summer Internship @ Google, Inc.: Accessibility Experiences.” Google needs an entire accessibility department, not a couple of interns “assigned to spend time on accessibility issues encountered by visually-impaired users.” The interns displayed their inexperience by dragging Jaws users all the way to Google and expecting them to somehow reconfigure a default installation to match the one they have at home. The interns had to be told not to touch a working guide dog.

More incriminating was the interns’ half-arsed attempt to hack the think-aloud protocol commonly employed in user testing. “[T] he addition of the screen reader increased the overall noise experienced in the usability testing session.” Well, of course it did. And their solution? Well, it wasn’t to finally come to grips with the fact that they’re testing the user and not the screen reader and simply hand the user a pair of headphones. No, no, no. Their solution to increased noise in the test lab was to add another human voice, the “screen-reader interpreter,” who would explain what the screen reader was saying to these greenhorns.

[I]f [a] shortcut command resulted in an error message such as ‘no headers found,’ observers unfailiar with screen readers could not understand what was happening.” That’s because they work at Google, hence are unfamiliar with Web development. A Googler is the last person I’d want writing my Web page. Quick: Where are the headers on Google sites? Quick again, Googlers: Why are headers important?

Oh, and another brainwave from these kids: Hack the CSS file to create an outline on links using a:active (surely a:link:focus). Are you really testing the original Web site anymore when you do that?

The interns conclude in part that “[o]ur work led to improvements in several Google products.” Well, prove it.

Skill-testing question: If you get a summer internship at a billion-dollar market dominator in which you are tasked with testing accessibility for people who can’t speak, like users with cerebral palsy, then what do you do?

Never send an intern to do what an entire department should already be doing.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2007.02.23 13:28. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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