Touring Google’s New Accessibility Discovery Centre in London
I heard Google was opening their Accessibility Discovery Centre (ADC) late last year. So when they opened it for tours, I had to sign up.
But let me rewind.
My path to the ADC
I've been working in the accessibility field for the last several years. Figuring out how to inspire change. Maturing programs and processes. Helping organizations derisk themselves and the products they're releasing. This journey continues and I continue to learn about new technologies, meet new people, listen to stories about struggle and life. The ADC tour seemed to check all these boxes. So, when an invitation was offered, I recruited my coworker and accessibility savant, Pat Cullen, to come along.
Which brings me to the beginning again.
Google’s Christopher Patnoe, Head of Accessibility and Disability Inclusion, EMEA greeted us, followed by Jyothi Reddy Gogireddy, Lead Accessibility Analyst. We talked about why we were there and how our careers led us to meeting each other. How far the industry had come and how far it still had yet to go. All the pleasantries were a prelude to Christopher telling us how the Centre was designed, tested and regularly improved. Most key, why it was important to have this to drive awareness through demonstration and application.
The space was bright, open and warm. Christopher explained the various lighting tones and hues, and that there were several hearing loops placed throughout. The artwork on the walls reinforced the brand and the mission. The centerpiece, a large, custom ADC sign built to touch, invited visitors to make contact with its raised lettering and creative imprints along the surface. But, even a tall person would struggle to touch the very top, which presented a predicament not unlike the ones the Centre aimed to solve. To make it accessible, Christopher's team built a replica and positioned it adjacent to the original, just smaller in size and hung lower on the wall. A story about accessibility told in two parts.
There were whiteboards, a usability lab, and a reading area. I spied many accessibility best practice books, a biography on Prince, and a braille version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Make sure you ask where the page numbers are located if you visit.
Jyothi then walked us to Arcade Row which had gaming stations set up with various assistive technologies. They were wonderfully decorated in a callback to classic arcade cabinets. The chef's kiss of these decorative renderings had to be one illustrating Chrome Dino. (As an aside, we were surprised to learn that Chrome Dino had a degree of accessibility built into it.) There was eye-tracking software, XBox adaptive controllers, head switches and chin-controlled joysticks – all demonstrating how technology can be leveraged to help someone speak, communicate and build relationships. But most of all, to help someone have fun.
Jyothi demonstrated other types of assistive technology including a braille slate to help people with vision impairments write, a self-stabilizing spoon designed for people with hand tremors and a vibrating alarm clock for individuals with hearing loss. There’s even an Eone Bradley timepiece designed by Hyungsoo Kim (I’d highly recommend that you watch his TedTalk. It’s a great case study on how involving people with disabilities influenced and enhanced his product.).
As we continued, there were three more stations focused on assistive technologies: dexterity and cognitive, hearing, and vision impairments.
Each station had several examples including:
Eye-tracking software used in conjunction with text-to-speech software. Especially helpful for people with dexterity impairments who have difficulty speaking.
Visual and tactile alternatives for sound-only events (think of a doorbell ringing or a baby crying). This is especially helpful for people experiencing a loss of hearing.
Screen reader software demonstrating JAWS and TalkBack.
Braille keyboards that assist people who are visually impaired.
A Google Pixel’s Guided Frame that allows users to take great selfies (without seeing the screen).
Google Chrome’s native Live Captions feature, providing video captions on demand.
Google’s Look to Speak Android application that allows users to select text sentences by looking in a particular direction on the screen.
It was engaging from the start, fun and thought provoking, and we left re-energized.
Special thanks to Christopher and Jyothi again for accommodating us. They shared their time, their experiences and taught us a thing or two.
Reflections on the ADC experience
You can’t have a great experience like Pat and I did without considering the work those of us in accessibility and inclusive design fields do – and its impact.
My short list is:
Accessibility is fun and rewarding!
Embrace the new. Get out of your comfort zone.
Involve the people you intend to serve during the planning and design of products and services. As writer and disability rights activist James Charlton said “Nothing about us without us.”
Help others on their journeys. Helping each other helps us all.
As Google and other brands make these important public commitments to awareness and education around people with disabilities and their needs, we all benefit. These efforts lead to empathy, stronger communities and innovations that improve our physical and digital realms. Organizations that lead the charge help create the gravity that pulls others in to collaborate, and inspires them to contribute their own creativity and expertise.
Learn more about Google’s ADC.