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Google site to aid the blind

Search giant tests site designed to serve up Web pages that software can easily read to blind users.

Google was set to unveil a Web search site on Thursday designed to help blind people find results that will work best with their text-to-speech software.

The new Google Accessible Search site, which will be available at early on Thursday, prioritizes the list of search results based on how simple the Web page layouts are, said T.V. Raman, research scientist in charge of the service.

For example, a user searching for "weather" will find pages with a lot of other content on them.

"To a user who can see, that might be fine," Raman said. "But if you are listening to the page (via screen reader software), a lot of information can prevent you from finding what you are looking for."

The service, which Raman characterized as an "early-stage experiment" out of Google Labs, looks at a number of signals by examining the HTML markup found on a Web page. It tends to favor pages that have few visual distractions and that are likely to render well with images turned off.

Google Accessible Search is built on the same technology underlying Google Co-op, which prioritizes search results based on specialized interests.

Raman said he built the service "for purely selfish reasons" after joining Google about a year ago. Google hopes user feedback will help it improve the service.

David Faucheux, a blind man who uses Google and writer of the Blind Chance audio blog, said Web search for people who can't see sorely needs improvement. "I hope they can make things easy to use," he wrote in an e-mail. "I do a Google search and usually after the first several hits, I don't continue to look for anything."