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Accessibility of web search engines: Towards a deeper understanding of barriers for people with disabilities

Friederike Kerkmann (Department of Information, Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, Hamburg, Germany)
Dirk Lewandowski (Department of Information, Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, Hamburg, Germany)

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Article publication date: 31 August 2012




The purpose of this paper is to describe the aspects to be considered when evaluating web search engines' accessibility for people with disabilities. The authors provide an overview of related work and outline a theoretical framework for a comprehensive accessibility study of web search engines, regarding the principles of disability studies and the idea of inclusion.


The paper is based on a literature review, and an aggregation of recommended actions in practice, mainly the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative's (WAI) evaluation model.


A good way to conduct an accessibility study in a comprehensive manner is the WAI methodology consisting of three‐steps: preliminary review to quickly identify potential accessibility problems; conformance evaluation to determine whether a website meets established accessibility standards; and user testing to include real people with disabilities in a practical use. For the use case “web search engines” some special issues have to be taken into consideration.

Research limitations/implications

The paper can be seen as a brainstorming and describes a theoretical concept of how to do. Conclusions about actual barriers of web search engines and criteria of satisfaction for people with disabilities do not exist as of yet; the model is not tested so far.

Practical implications

This paper provides practical implications for researchers who want to conduct an accessibility study, especially of web search engines. Findings of such studies can have practical implications for web search engine developers to improve accessibility of their product. The accessibility of web search engines does not only have implications for people with special needs, but also for the elderly or temporarily handicapped people.


This paper combines findings from web search engine research with aspects of disability studies. Therefore, it provides insights for researches, search engine developers and educators in practice on how important accessibility of web search engines for people with disabilities is, how it can be measured and what aspects need to be considered.



Kerkmann, F. and Lewandowski, D. (2012), "Accessibility of web search engines: Towards a deeper understanding of barriers for people with disabilities", Library Review, Vol. 61 No. 8/9, pp. 608-621.



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Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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