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Enhanced accessibility makes Google Pixel phones better for everyone.
Google product teams put accessibility features like Guided Frame in focus from the start.

Pixel’s accessibility innovations aren’t just created for the disabled community. They’re designed with the disabled community, right from the start.

That’s what drew Google’s Head of Brand Accessibility, KR Liu, to the company. Liu, a longtime advocate for people with disabilities, was diagnosed with severe hearing loss at the age of three. In 2018, before joining Google, she was asked to consult on a new feature in development intended to benefit the Deaf community: Live Caption

The Live Caption feature would automatically transcribe spoken language and read written responses aloud in real time to those on the other end of the call. 

“I said, I think this is a really incredible opportunity because it’s not only good for someone like myself, who’s hard of hearing to be using, but many people use captions now. Now they say that 90% of people watch content online with Live Caption,” says Liu.

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Celebrating creativity through AI-powered features

Inspired by Google’s inclusive approach to product development, Liu decided to join the team. Now her team leads efforts to create other accessibility features, bringing people with disabilities into the conversation – just as she was for Live Caption. These include people who are blind, such as Josh Pearson, a musician, as well as Superfan Ben Steffer, who has had recent vision impairment, and Molly Burke, a content creator. Burke was brought in during the development of Guided Frame. The feature uses AI and facial recognition to help people with low vision take selfies. Google shared Guided Frame with Burke, who found it helped her more easily snap images and make content.

Content creator Molly Burke uses Guided Frame on a Google Pixel phone to take a selfie.

“It shows that many disabled people love things about culture and creativity, too, so we’re using technology to allow them to do those things as well,” says Liu.

For Pixel Superfan Ben Steffer, who works in education in Oklahoma City, exchanging pictures with his daughter every day was a tradition they both enjoyed. But when a medical issue impacted his ability to see, he turned to Guided Frame to keep sending pictures. “The ability for it to tell me where I was touching the screen and assisting me in finding things really helped with the whole ordeal,” he says. “My daughter was happy our streak of pictures was able to continue.”

Guiding tech to help people connect

Liu has made it her life’s work to be a strong voice championing the way people connect in the world, including the 1.3 billion people around the world with disabilities. She is a passionate thought leader and advocate for disability inclusion, gender equality, and LGBTQ rights in technology and marketing. At Google, she is an influential voice for the disabled community and works internally to promote the community’s interests – which translates to better innovation for people with disabilities, and for everyone. 

“My path to Google was doing what Google does best,” Liu says. “They bring in the community, they have ideas, they want to hear feedback, and innovation is built because of that. That’s really critical when you’re innovating for disabled people. They have to be in the room so that you make sure that you’re focusing on their needs. It’s part of Google’s mission to make the world’s information universally accessible and useful.”

Pixel Superfan Ben Steffer The ability for it to tell me where I was touching the screen and assisting me in finding things really helped, and my daughter was happy our streak of pictures was able to continue. Writing music in a whole new way

For musician Josh Pearson, who is blind, writing music is everything. And he credits Google’s TalkBack feature with helping him churn out new songs for his recordings and live events. TalkBack audibly reads content from apps and text messages on Pixel, so that people with low vision and blindness can fully experience the device without using their eyes. Pearson uses it to write lyrics, speaking the lyrics into his phone and playing them back so he can make edits. 

Innovating for even more accessibility

Advances in AI have made Pixel an even more helpful phone for people with disabilities. “A lot of the applications that we’ve built are built with AI and have been for years,” adds Liu. “I have these tools that allow AI to help me be as engaged in society as I want to be, and that’s a great thing. It shows the power of AI and Google’s rich history there, and what we’ve been able to do to empower disabled people.”

Advancing disability inclusion and accessibility

Like Liu, Laura Allen has had a front-row seat for the progress Google has made in this space, as head of strategy and programs for accessibility and disability inclusion.

“When I started working full-time on accessibility more than nine years ago, we had a very small number of highly passionate Googlers driving accessibility from the ground up. We were constantly pushing uphill and making the case for why this work was important and needed more attention,” she says. “Today, we’re in a drastically different place.”

Over the years, Google has introduced more programs and processes across product areas to help Googlers integrate accessibility and inclusion more consistently and earlier in their design and development process. “There’s been a big shift from ‘why’ to ‘how,’ which is so exciting and encouraging,” Allen says.

Connecting with loved ones

Liu is passionate about Google Pixel in her job – and in her personal life, too. She had a hand in Live Translate, which makes real-time translation possible for spoken and text-based language, with no app needed.1 It helps her connect with family. “I use it on a regular basis,” she says. “My father-in-law only speaks Mandarin, so it’s my only way of communicating with him.”

It’s what Google does best – making information helpful not just for certain people, but for everyone.

Takeaways
Google makes accessibility and inclusion a priorityGoogle collaborates with the disabled community to develop features and products that empower them Guided Frame uses AI, facial recognition, and vibration to help people who are blind or have low vision take a selfie
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  1. Not available in all languages or countries. Not available on all media or apps. See g.co/pixel/livetranslate for more information. Translation may not be instantaneous.