Google Health launched last February, but the service has been curiously quiet since.
Has Google been quietly racking up new partners to help feed Google Health-which lets users securely access their personal health records online-more health information?
Perhaps, but it's also become clear that Google is finding other ways to improve the service. The company Oct. 15 enhanced Google Health to help visually impaired people access the service from their computers using self-voicing browsers or screen reader applications.
Now screen reader and/or self-voicing browser users can easily navigate the Google Health interface to obtain auditory information. These enhancements, which include widgets, were implemented using the World Wide Web Consortium's ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications), a set of Web standards that allow AJAX applications to work with assistive technologies. Raman wrote:
"With these enhancements, I can now easily navigate Google Health to not only manage my own health records; Google Health enables me to quickly research various relevant health conditions, track medications and do a myriad health-related tasks."
Raman said accessibility support in Google Health requires support from both the browser and the adaptive technology in use. Raman recommends using Firefox 3.0 with screen readers that support ARIA, or Fire Vox, the self-voicing extension to Firefox 3.0.
To sign in, first-time users should use this ARIA-enabled Google Health link to turn on the accessibility enhancements.
Raman provides a number of instructions in this blog post; users will use navigation keys to go to categories with information, including height and weight, which will be spoken to them.
The integration of W3C ARIA with the Google Web Toolkit to make Google Health work for visually impaired users is quite a coup for Google and for assistive technology overall.
It's unclear how many users have signed in and are actively using Google Health, but the move is one step of many Google will have to take to effectively compete with Microsoft's more established HealthVault service.
ReadWriteWeb calls Google Health versus Microsoft HealthVault a kind of Coke versus Pepsi battle, but if users aren't signing up at a prodigious rate, then they're fighting over nothing.
I've asked Google and Microsoft how many consumers are using their respective health platforms and will update if possible.