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Enhanced Pixel accessibility makes Google phones better for everyone.
KR Liu, Google’s head of brand accessibility, shares how product teams make accessibility features a focus from the start.

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

That’s what drew KR Liu to Google. Liu is a longtime advocate for people with disabilities who was diagnosed with severe hearing loss at the age of three. In 2018, she was asked to take a look at a new phone accessibility feature in development intended to benefit the Deaf community.  

The Live Caption feature would automatically transcribe spoken language and read aloud written responses 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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In 2020, Liu became global head of brand accessibility for Google. As a technology sales and marketing executive for two decades, 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 accessibility innovations 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." 

KR Liu, Google global head of brand accessibility I have these tools that allow AI to help me be as engaged in society as I want to be. 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 customisable accessibility programs and processes across product areas to help Googlers integrate them 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.

Innovation in accessibility

Advances in AI accessibility have made Pixel an even more helpful phone for people with disabilities, says Liu. “A lot of the applications that we’ve built are built with AI and have been for years,” she says. “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.”

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

Celebrating creativity through AI accessibility features

Bringing people with disabilities into the conversation is a central part of the “how.” Liu points to the way Google brought in Molly Burke, a content creator who is blind and shares her work through social media, during the development of Guided Frame. The feature uses AI and facial recognition to help take a selfie. Google shared Guided Frame with Burke, who found it helped her snap images and make content more easily. 

“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. 

Musician Josh Pearson credits Google’s TalkBack 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 have a full device experience 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.

Connecting with loved ones

Liu is passionate about Google Pixel accessibility in her job – and in her personal life as well. 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.”

And it’s what Google does best, making information useful not just for certain people, but for everyone.

Takeaways
KR Liu has made it her life’s work to be a strong advocate and voice championing the way people connect in the worldGoogle collaborates with the disabled community to develop phone accessibility features and products that empower them Over the years, Google has introduced programs and processes across product areas to help Googlers integrate accessibility and inclusion
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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.

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