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Lack of accessibility causes delay in full Google roll out

By Giacomo Bologna, Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 9, 2012

Laura Patterson, the University's chief information officer, spoke to the Central Student Government on Tuesday night in response to a resolution passed last week that disapproved of the University’s adoption of Google services that are not fully accessible to disabled students.

Patterson said the University recognizes that the services provided through Google are not fully accessible to students with vision difficulty, some learning disabilities and other impairments, and it is working with the company to improve user-friendliness.

“We knew at the time that Google was not accessible and we knew this because many other universities had gone to Google before the University of Michigan,” she said. “But Google assured us that they were making significant investment in making their product accessible.”

Regardless of problems with accessibility, Patterson said the University decided to sign a ten-year contract with Google instead of Microsoft last year after polls and meetings with students and faculty indicated that Google was heavily preferred. She added that many students had already been forwarding their University messages to Gmail addresses before they decided to contract Google’s services.

Despite ongoing communication with Google, she said the company’s services still have not met the University’s desired level of accessibility, according to studies conducted by the University.

In response to the inadequacies, Patterson said the University has delayed forcing people to migrate to Google. She said that of the three main products Google is offering students — calendar, e-mail and online documents — the calendar is acceptable, but Gmail and documents still need work.

Patterson added that she will meet with University Provost Philip Hanlon on Wednesday to ask him to bar administrators and professors from requiring students to use GoogleDocs.

After Patterson's speech, CSG Vice President Omar Hashwi asked her if the University had provided Google with a timeline to solve the accessibility issues. Patterson said the University will complete its tests on the system and give Google a prioritized list of problems within the month.

“We haven’t settled on a timeline, but we are definitely going to give them a timeline,” she said. “Our preferred timeline is 6 months, they’re probably going to push back on that and say they would like to have more time.”

Rackham representative Patrick O’Mahen, who authored the resolution against the Google migration, asked Patterson if the assembly could view a copy of the contract, but Patterson said it was against University policy to disclose it.

However, Patterson noted that the contract was reviewed by a committee of administrators that included several high-profile administrators such as Hanlon, Chief Financial Officer Tim Slottow and Ora Pescovitz, the executive vice president for medical affairs.

In his address to Patterson, CSG president Manish Parikh said students came to his weekly office hours almost exclusively to ask about CSG’s efforts to improve the accessibility of Google’s products.

“What I find unfortunate is that I am unable to give (students) a response,” he said.

Patterson said she will attend another CSG meeting to discuss the issue in early November.

Following the discussion of Google services, the assembly unanimously passed a resolution allocating $3,000 from the CSG Sponsored Activities account to help fund a pep rally on the Diag on Oct. 18, the Thursday before the Michigan-Michigan State football game.

Business senior Jeremy Klaben, one of the event’s organizers, spoke to the assembly about the resolution. He said the rally already has 800 confirmed attendees on Facebook. Attendees can earn a point in the University’s H.A.I.L. app — a recently launched incentive program that encourages students to attend sporting events — and Parikh will also speak at the event.

The assembly also unanimously passed a resolution to add an internship program within CSG, which assembly speaker Michael Proppe jokingly referred to as the “CSG pledge program.”

The resolution will become part of the CSG compiled code, ensuring that it will continue for years to come.


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