Google recently unveiled it’s Accessible Search, which prioritises the search results to favour pages that are more easily used by partially-sighted and blind users. Good work, but it was too much to expect that they would listen to their own advice and ensure their own pages conformed to any standards or took account of any accessibility guidelines.
The Science Bit
It works by adding to the technology currently employed on their standard search by taking a look at the (X)HTML that makes up the page.
It tends to favor pages that degrade gracefully — pages with few visual distractions and pages that are likely to render well with images turned off.
Currently we take into account several factors, including a given page’s simplicity, how much visual imagery it carries and whether or not it’s primary purpose is immediately viable with keyboard navigation
Practising what you Preach
Whenever a company mentions that it’s even thinking about accessibility, usability or standards, the first thing a developer will do is to view their source code. So, after I’d used the search, I checked the source and they let themselves down from the first line: no doctype.
Adding a doctype is basic. A page won’t validate without it or achieve Double-A compliance because it will fail the checkpoint (3.2: Create documents that validate to published formal grammars).
That said, it is a big step in the right direction. From my experience, companies seem too focused on improving their placement in the search results rather than ensuring their site is easy to use.
If the extra features became part of Google’s main search it would mean they would start taking accessibility and usability much more seriously, which will bring improvements to everyone’s online experience.