Google representatives came to the University of Maryland on Tuesday night to share with students steps they’re taking to make their workspaces and products more accessible to people with disabilities.
“It’s about creating that awareness for all Googlers to make sure that we’re always maintaining our workspaces to the level that they were intended to be,” said Brittney Hykal, a university recruiter.
Every year, the company dedicates a week to maximizing that awareness, Hykal said. Simple things such as leaving Razor scooters — which are often used to travel throughout the Google office — in the hallways can affect mobility, as someone in a wheelchair or with a visual impairment might have trouble navigating around them.
Software engineer Yu Zhong works to make Google’s services more accessible. Features such as voice commands and screen readings increase accessibility, but Zhong said the company is constantly working to improve its usefulness.
“We have standards you have to meet before you release your products — otherwise, accidents happen because testing is not perfect,” he said. “We want someone to research, to create new things.”
While Zhong’s team ensures the accessibility of Google products collectively, each product has its own accessibility team.
For example, Google Maps is incorporating tools that increase the transparency of disability-friendly places, in the same way users see reviews for restaurants or can see the nearest gas station. YouTube is working to ensure all its videos have accurate captions. Google Play recommends apps that help to increase accessibility in the daily lives of people with disability.
“We all work together closely,” he said.
The Googlers screened a short documentary to supplement their discussion. Lives Worth Living chronicles the disability rights movement from World War II up to the passing of the American Disabilities Act in 1990.
“I want people to see how much effort went into the protections of people with disabilities,” said Blair Chisholm, the president and founder of Terps for Disability Justice.
Chisholm founded the club this year because she wanted to provide a place for those with disabilities to come together on the campus. She is also a student representative for the President’s Commission on Disability Issues.
The junior information science major said while the university has taken certain steps, she would like to see university President Wallace Loh take a firmer stand for the inclusion of the community, rather than “just people he appoints.”
Hykal said the interview process at Google aims to be as accommodating as possible.
“It’s really up to the candidate what their specific need is, and your recruiter will work very carefully with you around that,” she said.
Nancy Forsythe, the career development specialist for students with disabilities at this university, believes it’s important that proactive discussions are held not just within the disabled community, but the general public at large. She said Google has been a big part of that.
“They’re here a lot,” she said. “They want to help and they’re really good friends.”