How Google Risks Court Actions Under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)

Earlier today over on Google+ I posted another (relatively minor) example of Google’s horrible low contrast user interfaces (YouTube image at the bottom of this post — how do you find the “How do I find it?” link?) and I suggested that this continuing behavior by Google could be seen as a form of discrimination against persons with less than perfect vision. (Please see: “Does Google Hate Old People?”: — for one of my earlier more detailed discussions. Also “Google and Older Users”: — where I discuss the need for a dedicated Google employee to focus on this area.)

Every damned time I write about this topic, my inbox starts to fill with new horror stories related to issues with Google user interfaces in these contexts, that do in some cases seem to cross the threshold into discrimination, at least in an ethical sense if not a legal one.

And I certainly get plenty of people who contact me and bring up the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) as relates to Google.

Thankfully, I’m not a lawyer. But readers who are lawyers have not infrequently asked me regarding any interest that I might have in participating in a class action lawsuit related to Google regarding “discriminatory” user interface and related issues.

My response has always been negative. I much prefer to keep courts out of largely technical policy matters — the thought of them trying to micromanage user interfaces makes me rather nauseous.

Yet the probability of some group moving ahead with legal action in these regards seems to be increasing dramatically as Google’s user interfaces overall — plus documents, blogs, and various other display aspects — keep getting worse in terms of the disadvantaged categories of users. Nor is the fact that most Google users are not paying for Google services necessarily a useful defense — Google has become integral to the lives of much of this planet’s population.

My premise has been that Google doesn’t actually hate older users (or other users negatively affected by these issues). Not hate them per se, anyway.

However, I’m forced to agree that Google’s attitude can certainly be interpreted by many observers as a form of hate, even if characterized by a form of neglect rather than direct action.

It has long seemed the case that Google concentrates on users in Google’s perceived key user demographics, putting much less care into users who fall outside of that focus — even though the latter represents vast (and rapidly increasing) numbers of users.

Nor do I sense that this is a problem with “rank-and-file” Googlers — many of whom I know and who are great and caring people. Rather, it seems to me that the problematic attitudes in these respects are generally sourced at Google’s executive and in some cases program manager levels, who of course set the ground rules for all Google products and services.

Either way, Google’s growing vulnerabilities to legal actions related to these situations seems clear, as these problems continue spreading across the Google universe.

While it could certainly be argued that more easily readable and usable user interfaces and reference pages would benefit all users, Google need not necessarily abandon their new “standard” interfaces with their low contrast fonts in order to solve these problems. I’ve in the past suggested the possibility of a high-readability, easier use “accessibility” interface that would exist as a user selectable option alongside the standard one. And I’ve proposed consideration of interface “APIs” that would permit third parties to write specialized interfaces to help specific groups of Google users.

None of these concepts have apparently seen any traction though, and Google seems to be barreling ahead with changes that are only making matters worse for these user groups who are already being driven bats by various aspects of Google’s design choices.

I would enormously prefer that Google take the ethical stance and move forward toward solving these problems itself. Yes, this requires nontrivial resources — but Google does have the capabilities. What they seem to be lacking right now is the will to do the right thing in these regards.

If this continues to be the case, the odds are that the courts will indeed ultimately move in. And that’s an outcome that I’m unconvinced will be a good one for either Google or its users.