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Google engineer calls for accessibility in design

Google engineer calls for accessibility in design

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Laura D’Aquila, a software engineer at Google and native Long Islander, spoke to engineering and computer science students at Hofstra about her experiences designing accessible software for Google Docs, Sheets and Slides on Friday, March 8, in Adams Hall.

D’Aquila, who graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a master’s degrees in electrical engineering and mathematics, was one of the main designers on a recently-released feature for Google Slides: automated closed captions. 

This new feature aims to make presentations more accessible for everyone.

D’Aquila used this add-on throughout her talk as evidence that accessibility makes products better for all users. “If you’re taking the time to think about accessibility when building your product it’s very likely that you’re moving toward an overall better design and user experience for everybody,” she said.

Other accessible technologies D’Aquila touched on during Friday’s talk included hands-free smartphone access, display options that help people with low vision and cognitive impairments use digital devices and even a Google Maps feature that shows travel routes that are viable for those with limited mobility. 

“When we launch a product, we want to make sure that it’s able to be used by everybody,” D’Aquila said. “Because we care about everybody – no matter who you are – being able to make use of what we’re putting out.”

John Canzoneri, a freshman computer science major, attended D’Aquila’s talk to learn more about life at Google. “A lot of students were hoping [D’Aquila would go] more into detail on the processes and code behind these projects,” he said. “They were all interesting and probably complicated.”

“Google is a really big company that any software engineer would love to work for,” said Danny Pires, a sophomore computer science and cybersecurity major. “Accessibility is not something I’ve been taught about even here at Hofstra.” 

Pires was particularly impressed with how Google designs products to be accessible from their inception instead of making modifications after the fact. 

“Google’s mission as a company is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and usable,” D’Aquila said. “There’s never a one-size-fits-all solution to accessibility ... it’s a very exciting field to be working in, with plenty of opportunities to make a difference and help people.”

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