It’s obvious that Google+ is a powerful tool for personal and business use, and that we’ll see much more of it as time goes on. Circles are a brilliant way to organize contacts and share information, and hangouts makes video conferencing easy. What’s not to like?
Well, have you ever been in a situation where you’re looking at food that looks great and smells great and you’re hungry and would very much like to have some, but there’s some reason you can’t?
I have to give Google+ very mixed reviews on accessibility.
The more important a tool like Google+ turns out to be, the more important that everyone have access to it — including a couple of large communities who find it difficult or impossible to use a mouse: folks who have repetitive strain injuries and folks who are blind.
The good news is it’s relatively simple to make a program accessible to everyone: include keyboard controls. Better yet, provide a way to reconfigure keyboard shortcuts and share configurations. Enable the keyboard, and alternative controls like speech recognition can translate keyboard shortcuts to give users whatever type of access they need.
So how accessible is Google+ on this basic — keyboard shortcuts?
I couldn’t easily find shortcuts documentation.
So I tried some things out.
It failed on one basic requirement — you can’t use the arrow keys to move up and down conversations and drop-down menu items.
There’s a little good news, however.
– You can use the the “j” and “k” keys to move between conversations, just like in Gmail.
– The Enter key sets you up to write a comment.
– And a combination of the right number of Tabs and Enter lets you post, delete or cancel from the comment field.
So if you use Dragon plus Utter Command speech software to control the computer you can say “Letter j” or “Letter k” to move back or forward through entries. You can also skip forward or back in a single utterance, e.g. “k Times 3”. And you can open a comment field by saying “Enter”, and, once the comment is in, say, “Tab Enter” to post it, or “2 Tab Enter” to cancel it.
But that’s about it for useful direct keyboard control.
If you use the Firefox Mouseless browsing extension, you can go directly to most elements for a small penalty — numbers taking up space on your screen.
And if you use Dragon’s speak links ability you can click links and buttons that contain words, but this breaks down with less pronounceable names like +1’s and unpronounceable things like the home, pictures, profile and circles icons. Dragon’s speak links ability is also a little fragile — it’s all too easy to accidentally say a word that clicks a link.
And both solutions require you to identify something by sight before you take action, which can make things slower or a showstopper depending on your abilities. This is where keyboard shortcuts should be filling in the blanks.
Given the mixed situation, the easiest way for Dragon plus Utter Command users to access commonly clicked items like the search field, unpronounceable icons like profile, and unpronounceable symbols like the little drop-down list on the top right corner of each entry might be to use the UC Touch List to set up named mouse clicks. It takes a little set up, but will get you to the meal in the end.
Google+ clearly needs more keyboard shortcuts.
Better yet, how about a tool to allow us to easily configure keyboard shortcuts in Google+? Or even better, how about a tool to allow us to easily configure keyboard shortcuts across Google products? This would allow more people into the circle. It also has a lot of potential to improve the experience for folks who are already in.