Talks at Google Tips: How designing for accessibility improves user experiences for everyone

By Jamie Rosenstein, Staff Writer and Senior Producer | Product Inclusion

At Google, we have a speaker series primarily run by passionate Googlers outside of their core roles, known as Talks at Google. Talks at Google brings in influential creators, makers, thinkers, and doers to deliver — you guessed it— a talk at Google. True to Google's mission, the talks are recorded and shared on YouTube and Twitter, making the information available and accessible to all. With well over 4,000 Talks at Google to date and twelve new talks happening each week, there is no shortage of content, including a wide spectrum of experts talking about inclusive product design and development.

In the spirit of making this wealth of content more approachable and digestible, each month we will provide Talks at Google Tips. These key takeaways will come from three wide-ranging Talks at Google that touch on the importance of not only building for diversity—specifically diverse abilities in this edition — but also the importance of highlighting diverse perspectives throughout the entire development and design process. 

Mark Barlet, AbleGamers Founder

Mark Barlet founded AbleGamers to create a more inclusive gaming culture, where everyone has the opportunity to participate and connect with others through video games. Video games offer people a way to disconnect from the stress of the real world and connect with other players. People with mobility impairments can often be socially isolated, and they rely heavily on the internet and technology to connect with others. Clearly, there is a moral imperative to ensure gaming is accessible to those who need it most, but Mark also used the business case to effectively impact the now 64 billion dollar gaming industry.

Tips from Mark (from his Talk at Google, edited for clarity):

1. People with disabilities don’t want to play a watered down game targeted for their disability. They want to play games that include people with their disability.

2. Games created specifically for people with disabilities are often isolating and patronizing. They further alienate them from their peer groups.

3. Gamers with disabilities would rather see a game be created, even if they can’t play it, than that game not be created at all. Ultimately, gamers want to see games advance and evolve, with the hope that they will become more inclusive and immersive. 


Cyrus Habib, Washington Lt. Governor

Washington Lt. Governor Cyrus Habib, who became blind at age eight due to a rare childhood eye cancer, shares his personal journey of being disrupted and rescued by technology, a cycle that touches everyone but is especially pronounced for those with disabilities. Through his experience finding technologies that worked for him and devising creative solutions when none were available, Cyrus shares firsthand how technology disportionately supports (or hinders) those with disabilities. He explains that designing for different abilities does more than support one group— it leads to innovations and all types of unforeseen positive consequences. For example, voice assistant technology was primarily for people with disabilities five years ago, but now it is used by hundreds of millions of people around the world through Google Home, Alexa, and Siri.

Tips from Cyrus (from his Talk at Google, edited for clarity):

1. Think about whatever you’re doing now and then think about how people of all different abilities would want to accomplish the same task. The minute you do that you will be creative.

2. There is an economic opportunity for everyone to make money and innovate by thinking not about those with a disability as an afterthought, but by having them be a core part of a multi-ability approach toward product design and development.

3. You should be asking your colleagues what emerging technologies might be disruptive to them and your colleagues should have disabilities. You want people of all abilities not just to make sure people with a certain disability can use your products, but to also figure out what might be interesting for others. Think about what has market value and which alternative user experiences you can metastasize outside the disability context into a broader use case scenario.


Gaelynn Lea, American Folk Singer, Violinist, and Disability Advocate

Gaelynn Lea is an American folk singer and violinist. Born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (brittle bone disease), Gaelynn discovered her passion for creating music in the fifth grade and worked with her teacher to develop creative ways to play the violin. “My whole life has been spent figuring stuff out. I wasn’t sure how I was going to play but I figured it out,” shares Gaelynn.

Tips from Gaelynn (from her Talk at Google, edited for clarity):

1. Have disability pride. The problem is not the disability itself but rather society’s inaccessibility. Reframe disability so that society contributes to accessibility.

2. Disability is often far out of the public sphere, so it is important to indicate when people with a disability are not represented.

3. Many seemingly small friction points add up overtime. Accessibility can be prioritized with more conversations and creative solutions. 

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