Visiting the Google Accessibility Discovery Centre (ADC) in London

Written by Terry O'Brien
Posted

Learn more about Google's accessibility suite - Google ADC, at their London office.

Purple neon sign on grey background 'ADC London'

A few weeks ago, I headed to London to visit Google U.K.’s office to learn more about their Accessibility Discovery Centre (ADC). Below, I share more about the visit, what happens at the ADC, my thoughts, and how to arrange a visit for you or your team. 

More about Google Accessibility Discovery Centre

The Google Accessibility Discovery Centre is at Google’s Kings Cross office at Pancras Square, London, just a few minutes walk from Kings Cross station. 

It opened in December 2022 and was built in consultation with partners: RNIB (Royal National Institute for Blind People), Everyone Can, RNID (Royal National Institute for Blind People) and Google’s internal Disability Alliance employee resource group. 

The ADC is a space to learn about accessibility and drive innovation in assistive technologies. Google has opened the ADC for tours to organisations and individuals in the accessibility community (more on that below).

Exploring the Google Accessibility Discovery Centre

Upon entering the room, a large custom ADC tactile sign greets you, and you are encouraged to touch and feel the imprints and raised areas that make up the ADC lettering.

Something the accessibility team openly admit is that once the sign was installed, they quickly realised it wasn’t accessible (even people over 6ft struggle to reach the top!). They have since made a smaller version and placed it lower down on the wall to help accessibility.

They hang side by side today; this is a story of accessibility, as Christopher Patnoe (Head of Accessibility and Disability Inclusion EMEA at Google) points out – “You have the idea, you have the intention, you build it, you screw it up and you fix it”.

Workshop and Research Lab

In front of the ADC sign on the wall is the workshop area. A large table is surrounded by 2 large monitor screens and whiteboards, a great place to work during workshops on various accessibility topics.

Next to the workshop area is the research/usability lab and accessibility library. It was interesting looking over the Braille version of a Harry Potter book.

Assistive Experiences

The Assistive Experiences area consists of several workstations demonstrating various assistive technologies.

Dexterity & Cognitive

The Dexterity & Cognitive workstation demonstrates an AAC board which displays different symbols/illustrations to help people with limited language skills express themselves. The user selects various icons to build sentences, and the device will read them aloud.

Hearing

The Hearing workstation had multiple devices to demonstrate assistive technologies; one example was live transcription on a Google Pixel phone. Another example was visual indicators for sound-only events, such as a doorbell or a baby crying.

Vision

The Vision workstation had several devices, including a Braille reader. We were shown some visual tools of the Chrome O.S., such as word highlighting for people with dyslexia or for people learning a new language for the first time, where it will read the words aloud for you.

Various other assistive devices, including tactile watches and a vibrating alarm clock, were also on display to try out.

ADC Arcade

The ADC Arcade consists of 3 workstations highlighting how assistive technology can bring people to gaming.

Chin Joystick

One gaming workstation in the arcade area runs FIFA ’22 with a chin joystick and finger switches. The user controls the player’s movement by placing their chin on the chin joystick and moving their head in the direction they want the player to go. As you can see below, I tried this out, and it was interesting; I got the hang of it after a few tries. It is set up in sandbox/practice mode, so it’s a good way for users to learn.

Eye Tracking

Another gaming workstation runs a game called Dirt Five, and it is controlled via the eyes using a Tobii Eye Tracker – the user moves the focus of their eyes to different areas of the screen to help steer the race car around the track.

Head Switch

The other gaming workstation had a head switch connected to control the game. The switch is positioned to the side of your head, and the game is controlled by you leaning your head to the side to press the switch/button.

All these gaming setups were linked to an Xbox and their Adaptive Controller. It is excellent that these assistive technologies can be used with mainstream games like this. Everyone can play these popular games.

Thoughts on my visit to the Google ADC

I really enjoyed my visit to the Google ADC. I come from a developer background, and there tends to be a lot of focus on websites being accessible to screen readers with less thought on other assistive technologies. Interacting with various assistive technologies at the Google ADC helped me understand how people with various disabilities interact with these devices. 

As a developer and a consultant working with companies and their teams and stakeholders, we can plan better for accessibility in the products we build together and have better testing methods to ensure high levels of compliance. 

Google is doing a great job with accessibility. While I don’t have Google devices, I was impressed with the accessibility tools built within these devices, such as the Google Pixel phone. I want to thank the Google team for the tour of the Google ADC.

How to visit the Google ADC

While the Google ADC is primarily for their own teams to work with the accessibility community to find ways to build and improve their products and devices, they also run workshops and tours for those working in accessibility areas, especially for those in educational, community or charitable organisations. To find out how to book a tour to visit the Google ADC in London, read more at Google’s blog about the Google ADC.

Thanks for reading; If I can help you and your teams, connect with me on social media (links below) or get in touch for a chat.

by Terry O'Brien

Terry is a Frontend Developer and Web Consultant. He has been in the industry for over 17 years and worked with multiple brands such as RAC, Royal London, Aqua, Bip, and University of Bristol. You can find him on social media:

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