By Alexandra Burlacu | Mar 03, 2013 12:16 PM EST
Google announced new accessibility features for Chrome, Chrome OS, Gmail and Google Drive, as well as a new sign language interpreter app for Google+ Hangouts.
The new accessibility features aim to make it easier for blind and low-vision users to use the Google suite of Web apps, while the new sign language interpreter app and keyboard shortcuts for Hangouts target the deaf and hard of hearing community, as well as those who cannot or do not want to use a mouse while using Hangouts.
Google announced the new features at the CSUN International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference, which took place this week.
"Chrome OS now supports a high-quality text-to-speech voice (starting with U.S. English). We've also made spoken feedback, along with screen magnification and high-contrast mode available out-of-the-box to make Chromebook and Chromebox setup easier for users with accessibility needs," touts Google. "Gmail now has a consistent navigation interface, backed by HTML5 ARIA, which enables blind and low-vision users to effectively navigate using a set of keyboard commands."
Drive is also easier to access now using a keyboard, as is Google Docs, the company further explains. The Docs application now has toolbar options and a new way to search menu, and users can access features using the keyboard. According to Google, new keyboard shortcuts and verbalization enhancements also make it easier now to use Docs, Sheets and Slides with a screen reader.
Google further notes that the stable version of Chrome now has support for the Web Speech Application Programming Interface (API), allowing developers to integrate speech recognition in their apps. The Bookshare library, which is accessible online, took advantage of the CSUN conference to show off a version of its ReadNow e-book reader that already uses the Speech API.
When it comes to the Hangouts interpreter app, Google says that it aims to allow those who communicate through sign language to "invite interpreters to speak and sign for them during hangouts." With the new app, the live video from the interpreter will be visible at all times, in the top-right side of the window. The new features are rolling out gradually.
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