Google I/O 2024 Accessibility Updates—A Win Is a Win In Our Books

The Google I/O 2024 updates did not highlight accessibility as its main focus, but we’re here to celebrate some ways in which these updates could make lives easier for users.

Accessibility features are being prioritized in a big way these days and the Google I/O 2024 accessibility updates have not been discussed nearly enough considering their relevance. Some tech giants tend to treat these features like “trends” but updates in this realm are more than just a passing fad—they determine basic access to technology for a wide selection of users. The Google I/O key announcements had a lot to offer and AI enthusiasts have struck gold with the range of features they now get to test out, but the search giant also had some announcements in terms of accessibility. The Google I/O AI gaming collaboration with SuperGaming stands out as one of the bigger wins but there are a few other features to explore as well.

Image: Google

Google I/O Accessibility Updates—What’s New Google?

We’ve talked about accessibility a few times recently, witnessing the many changes that are coming to tech and how it intends to improve the quality of life for its users. Apple has made a splash with talks of its iOS 18 software upgrade that will bring a wide range of accessibility-centric features from Eye Tracking to Vocal Shortcuts. In comparison to this success story, Sonos is another company that gained some attention after its recent app update elicited a strong reaction from users, one of which was the disappointment at their lack of focus on some of their own accessibility features.

The Google I/O accessibility updates are not as large in number as the list of the Apple iOS 18, but there are some great ideas of integration and ease of access that have been slipped into its AI offerings. Diving into the Google I/O 2024 highlights, here are some ways that the company is set to make a difference.

Image: Google

Google Gemini Makes Its Mark—Google I/O Key Announcements

Since its launch in December, the Google Gemini chatbot has evolved considerably and adopted a slew of features and capabilities in the process. The integration of the AI assistant in all Google platforms provides the company with a wide variety of applications considering just how many of their services are in common use today. Its presence on Android devices is something that we need to discuss more, as there are many benefits to having an AI assistant for those with impaired senses who struggle with tech otherwise.

The Gemini integration of Android takes the best shape with the upcoming Pixel phones and Gemini Nano’s on-device availability, but other Android users can just as easily make use of the Gemini app. The chatbot can be used over any other app to answer questions, generate AI images, and simplify the text visible on the screen. One feature that was showcased during the Google I/O 2024 highlights was the ability of the chatbot to summarize and pull key details from videos on YouTube or answer questions from PDFs.

For those who are hard of hearing or visually impaired, this feature would allow them to seek the information they need more easily, without having to strain their eyes and read through a PDF or scroll through a video transcript because listening to the video is difficult for them. These features can make everyone’s lives easier, certainly, but this is especially true for those navigating with their disabilities.

Image: Google

Project Astra One of the Standout Features of Google I/O’s Accessibility Updates

Among the Google I/O key announcements was the introduction of Project Asta, an AI assistant with a human touch. ChatGPT-4o was introduced a day before the Google event and along with Google’s AI assistant, both chatbots signal a new era of AI communication. To display the capabilities of Google’s latest AI invention, the showcase involved a Googler walking around with their phone camera open, giving the AI bot a sense of the contextual setup while asking it questions that pertained to the environment and others that required it to think carefully and generate a response.

The chatbot was able to scan the environment and decipher a drawing of a theoretical concept, just as easily as it was able to tell the user where she had left her glasses. Putting what we believe is a pair of Google’s VR glasses on, the user no longer had to hold her phone up to record and could just ask the assistant questions via the glasses. It’s easy to see how those with visual impairments could employ these devices in their lives, asking the assistant questions about how to navigate their environment or for more detailed descriptions of things that were in front of them.

The very human-like touch to the assistant is one of the best details of the Google I/O accessibility updates, one which will allow those averse to technology to feel more comfortable using it without having to put themselves under too much stress to learn how to operate it. It’s a win for accessibility in our books.

NotebookLM Redefines Learning

Another unintended mention in the Google I/O accessibility updates is the early prototype of Audio Overviews in NotebookLM. The tool, originally designed for students and researchers, is a useful tool where you can upload your notes and handouts and receive summaries and FAQs in exchange, making it easier to study. In addition to this, as a part of the Google I/O key announcements, you can now access audio recaps of the discussed material as well. Not only does it give you an audio description, but it is also created in the format of a conversation between speakers, making it easier to pay attention to, like in a real live class.

Have a question you need answered halfway through a conversation? As an additional feature provided by the Google I/O 2024 updates, you can pause the conversation, and narrate your question, and the AI will incorporate your question into the conversation naturally. This has to be one of the best uses of AI we’ve seen in a long time, and it could change how someone with visual impairments accesses study material. Most post-class learnings happen from reading material and notes taken during the lecture, which puts those with visual impairments and reading disabilities at a distinct disadvantage. If a tool like NotebookLM becomes widely available with these AI features, these students or even adults could have a much easier time revising.

Image: Introducing Project Gameface—a new way to use facial gestures to play games

Gaming Without Barriers: Google I/O AI Gaming Updates

Another highlight from Google I/O’s key announcements includes their partnership with SuperGaming to introduce accessibility in gaming. Not all accessibility tools have to focus solely on productivity and employment. Individuals with impairments are just as deserving of tools that can help them unwind and make the most of the simple pleasures of life, and this includes gaming. Project Gameface is one solution to making that possible. Working with SuperGaming, a company based in India and Singapore, Google introduced a project that intends to use facial gestures to play games.

Players should soon be able to use gestures such as raising their eyebrows to click and drag and use their mouths to move the cursor. Google has been working with Incluzza to understand accessibility needs and the facial gesture control could be a development generalized across Android for integration with a variety of apps and features.

Developers can build applications that utilize this facial tracking mechanism to increase the opportunities for integration for a wider audience. The Google I/O AI gaming update showcased SuperGaming’s upcoming battle royale game, Indus, and we’re excited to see where they take this collaboration next.

Other Google I/O 2024 Accessibility Updates

Apart from these new features, Google also announced plans to upgrade the TalkBack feature on Android by leveraging the capabilities of AI. With multimodal capabilities introduced, the AI will be able to provide better descriptions of images for those who are unable to view the images themselves. This is a handy tool to have around for those with visual impairments.

There were many other major announcements at the I/O event that included the upgrades to Google Workspace, the updates to the Imagen image generator, the new Veo video generation model, Google’s Music AI Sandbox, Gems for Gemini Advanced subscribers, etc. These announcements have many benefits for users and will soon see more widespread adoption as people get more familiar with its capabilities. These features outnumber the Google I/O accessibility updates, but over time, they should still make things easier for those with disabilities as people discover ways to integrate these conveniences into how they live and work.

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