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Cross-posted from the Official Google Blog

When Laura Palmaro was 10 years old, she woke one morning to find that the central vision in her left eye had all but disappeared. She was not ill and had no genetic issues—it was completely out of the blue. When she was 14, the same rare condition struck her right eye, and she began her freshman year of high school legally blind. Suddenly she was forced to depend on other people to read everything aloud, from school assignments to menus. The toughest part, according to Laura, was losing her sense of independence—and not knowing when or how she would get it back.

Laura has since adopted technological solutions to her vision challenges, using a combination of screen-readers and magnification software to read, work and more. Now a program manager at Google, she is following her passion, helping Chrome and Chrome OS teams make their products more accessible. “Technology has truly transformed my life,” she says. “Assistive technology can tear down boundaries, and empower people to find their independence and fulfill their dreams.”

We agree with Laura about the power of technology to change lives. And in order to support more people like her—people who see obstacles as opportunities—we’re launching the Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities. We’re putting $20 million in Google.org grants behind nonprofits using emerging technologies to increase independence for people living with disabilities, and today we’re issuing an open call to identify new areas of opportunity at g.co/ImpactChallengeDisability.

We’re kicking things off with support for two remarkable organizations. Each of these organizations is using technology to dramatically reduce the cost of and access to prosthetic limbs and auditory therapy, respectively—which could be transformative for hundreds of millions of people.

  • The Enable community connects people who want prosthetics with volunteers who use 3D printers to design, print, assemble, and fit them, for free. This dramatically cuts costs, increases speed of distribution, and meets unmet needs. We’ll support the Enable Community Foundation's efforts with a $600,000 grant to advance the design, distribution and delivery of open-source 3D-printed upper-limb prosthetics. 
  • Diagnosing auditory challenges can be a struggle in low income communities—the equipment is expensive, bulky and unrealistic, particularly in the developing world. With our support, and a $500,000 grant, World Wide Hearing will develop, prototype and test an extremely low cost tool kit for hearing loss using smartphone technology that’s widely available—and affordable—in the developing world. 

The Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities will seek out nonprofits and help them find new solutions to some serious “what ifs” for the disabled community. We will choose the best of these ideas and help them to scale by investing in their vision, by rallying our people and by mobilizing our resources in support of their missions.





But of course, we realize there’s always room to improve our products as well. We have a team committed to monitoring the accessibility of Google tools; and we provide engineering teams with training to incorporate accessibility principles into products and services. That doesn’t just mean improving existing Google tools, it means developing new ones as well. For example, Liftware is a stabilizing utensil designed to help people with hand tremors eat more easily, and self-driving cars could one day transform mobility for everyone.

Historically, people living with disabilities have relied on technologies that were often bulky, expensive, and limited to assisting with one or two specific tasks. But that’s beginning to change. Thanks to groups like Enable and World Wide Hearing, and with tools like Liftware, we’re starting to see the potential for technologies that can profoundly and affordably impact millions. But we’ll all get there sooner if we make it a team effort—which is why we’re launching Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities today. Together, we can create a better world, faster.

Posted by Jacquelline Fuller, Director, Google.org

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It’s National Consumer Fraud Week and this year’s theme is Get Smarter with your Data. But as many of us are realising as we hear more about identify theft and its impact,  security-awareness should be a year-round activity.

Google protects your data by providing encryption when you’re signed into Gmail, Search, Drive and many other Google services. This stops others from snooping on your activity while you’re on an open network, like when you use your laptop at a cafe or access the web through a public WiFi connection.

However, this is useful only if the bad guys don’t have access into your accounts. That’s why we encourage you to secure your account with a 2-step verification process. This means that even if your password gets stolen, a thief cannot gain access to your account. The extra layer of protection is free to anyone with a Google Account.

We also make the web safer from phishing and malware every day with our Safe Browsing warnings in Chrome. Each day we find more than 7,500 unsafe sites, so when you use Google Search, or surf across to an unsafe page using your Chrome browser, we’ll display a warning and encourage you to go elsewhere. We also provide this intel to the Stop Badware coalition, so other service providers can make the web safer, too.

There are also some things you can do to help us keep your data safe and secure. For example, we recommend you take a quick Security Check-Up this week to review your current Google account settings.  Some of the important items included in the checkup include;
  • Recovery information: Adding a phone number can help us get in touch if you’re locked out of your account. We’ll only use your phone number to protect your account, unless you say otherwise.
  • Recent activity: This is a quick overview of your recent sign-ins to Google. If you see any activity from a location or device you don’t recognise, change your password immediately.
  • Account permissions: These are the apps, websites and devices connected to your Google account. Take a look and make sure you trust—and actually use—all of them. You might want to remove an old phone, or that dusty app you never use.
Getting smarter with your data can be as simple as using the tools already available to you - not just during National Consumer Fraud Week, but all year round.

Posted by Samantha Yorke, Public Policy and Government Affairs Counsel for Google Australia

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Everyone remembers a good teacher. They nourish our interests and fuel our passions. Many of us have ended up in the careers we’re in because of an influential teacher we met along the way.

So it’s critical that teachers are equipped to give our kids the skills they need for the economy of the future. And when you look at how different fields from medicine to banking are rapidly digitising, it’s clear our teachers need to be able to teach computational skills.

Australia and New Zealand have some wonderful people teaching computer science, like Graeme Breen from Mountain Creek Secondary School on the Sunshine Coast, who teaches computer science to high school students. Graeme has been teaching since 1989 and says he wants to gives his students the technology skills they need to one day start their own companies.

We need more Graemes. To help this, Google funds workshops that equip teachers to teach computer science. The program, Computer Science for High Schools (CS4HS), provides teachers with the skills and resources they need to teach computational thinking and computer science concepts in fun and engaging ways. And we’ve just announced the latest batch of funding recipients (see the list below).
Graeme doing what he does best

Globally, we’ve helped train more than 12,000 teachers and reached over 613,000 students in more than 230 locations since we started this program. Closer to home, we are supporting 25 organisations across Australia and New Zealand who will provide this important training to K-12 school teachers. This year, we hope to reach around 3,000 high school, primary school and pre-service Aussie and Kiwi teachers.

In addition to the workshops, we are also providing free online professional teacher development in partnership with Adelaide University.

If you want to know where computer science can take kids, have a look at Careers with Code. In the future, young Australians will use computer science to do great things. And it will all have started with a great teacher.

2015 CS4HS Funding Recipients 
Australia 
Australian Catholic University
Code Club Australia
Central Queensland University
Griffith University
Information Communication and Technology Educators of NSW
Information Technology Educators ACT
La Trobe University
Macquarie University
FIRST Australia
Mark Oliphant College
Queensland Society for Information Technology Educators
Queensland University of Technology
St Columba Anglican School
Swinburne University of Technology
Tasmanian Catholic Education Office
The University of Adelaide
The University of Melbourne
The University of Newcastle
The University of New South Wales
The University of Queensland
The University of Tasmania
The University of Western Australia

New Zealand
Robotics Education NZ Trust
The University of Canterbury
Unitec Institute of Technology
Victoria University of Wellington

Posted by Sally-Ann Williams, Engineering Community & Outreach Manager, Google Australia & New Zealand

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Gallipoli is a special place for many people around the world and in particular for Australians and New Zealanders, whose ancestors fought in the Gallipoli Campaign during World War I. Search interest for [gallipoli] in Australia has doubled in the last month, as Australians look for more information about our history.

Even if you are not able to make it to Gallipoli in person this year, you can still experience its historical significance by learning about the events and the people, and exploring more than 80 locations on the Gallipoli Peninsula online. The Street View Trekker was brought to Turkey for the first time, so you can now virtually explore 360-degree online imagery of locations including the Lone Pine Cemetery and Memorial, Chunuk Bair, ANZAC Ceremonial Area and a number of other historic sites.

Lone Pine Cemetery and Memorial
The Nek Cemetery
Helles Memorial
Hill 60
You can also view new exhibitions and over a hundred unique photos, documents and artifacts that have been added to Google’s Cultural Institute to mark the ANZAC centenary. Among the many artefacts shared with the Cultural Institute by our partner museums are images of the shipwreck of the AE2 submarine, the drawings of Captain Hore, and paintings by Australian artist George Lambert.
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You will find first-hand sketches by wartime artists and photos from the collections of the Australian War Memorial, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australian National Maritime Museum, and State Library of New South Wales, among others.

We worked with the General Directorate for the Historical Sites of Gallipoli and Dardanelles Battles of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Turkey, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and the Embassies of Australia and New Zealand, to collect and release this imagery on Street View and publish a new image and exhibit archive on the Google Cultural Institute and we’re grateful for their help.

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As we flagged in February, we’re making a change to our search rankings, to include ‘mobile-friendliness’ as one of the many criteria we use to rank search results.

There have been a few misconceptions flying around about this change, so we wanted to clear them up.

  • Firstly, mobile-friendliness is just one of 200 signals that we use to determine the ranking of results. 
  • Sites that aren’t as mobile-friendly as they could be won’t disappear. In fact, they may still rank highly if they contain great content that people really want. 
  • And again, just to be really clear, this is just for mobile results

  • Why are we making this change? Well, we’ve all experienced bad mobile sites. Miniscule font, links that require Tinkerbell’s tiny fingers to click, or a sideways scroll that last for ever and ever and ever and ever. Which is a real problem, because mobiles are increasingly how we access the internet. Almost four in five Aussies now have smartphones, and we use them daily.

    Bad sites are bad for business too: visitors abandon websites that aren’t mobile-friendly at higher rates. Research shows 74% of people say they are more likely to return to a mobile-friendly site. What does ‘mobile-friendliness’ look like? Check out the image below.


    When people search on mobile, we will now use mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal that weighs in favor of pages that are formatted for mobile phones, like the image on the right. The good news is that creating a mobile-friendly site doesn't have to be expensive or time-consuming: it can be as simple as adjusting website settings or picking out a design you like. Even if you opt to fully redesign your site, a small business website with 10-20 pages could be completed in a day or so. And in Australia, there are over 5,000 Google-certified web experts who can help.

    Webmasters can check if their site is mobile-friendly by examining individual pages with the Mobile-Friendly Test or checking the status of the entire site through the Mobile Usability report in Webmaster Tools.

    In the two months since we announced this change, we’ve seen a 4.7 percentage point increase in the proportion of sites that are mobile friendly, and we hope to see even more in the coming months.

    The web doesn’t stand still, and mobiles have been around for eight years. Australians deserve to get the best out of the internet, however they access it. These changes are designed to help.

    Posted by Lisa Bora, Head of Mobile, Google Australia

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    Android TV is coming to Australia — starting with the Nexus Player which will go on sale at JB Hi-Fi and Dick Smith on Tuesday next week for $129. This is the first device in Australia to offer Android TV, which we announced at Google I/O in 2014 as a new platform that puts Android inside televisions and set-top boxes.

    Just by speaking to the Nexus Player remote using Voice Search, discover your favourite TV shows, a new movie release on Google Play, or a cooking video on YouTube and watch them on the biggest screen in your house. You can also use the remote, and the separate game controller, to turn your TV and Android games into a gaming console. (And pick up the game on your smartphone where you left off).

    Nexus Player, a collaboration with Asus, can also stream movies, music, and videos, and allows you to cast entertainment from almost any Chromebook, Android device or iOS device to your TV.

    Posted by Sophie Verow, Product Marketing Manager, Google Australia

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    Around four hundred kilometres inland, the beautiful New South Wales city of Dubbo is home to some of the most dynamic and hard-working small businesses in Australia.

    Take the Village Bakery: it was started by the owner’s grandfather in 1918, with a bag of flour in nearby Tooraweenah (population: 239). Almost one hundred years later, it relies on the internet to source new customers, showcase its products and services, and promote seasonal specialities (hot cross bun anyone?). 

    Michael Everett, who manages operations at the bakery, says that while baking is not an industry people associate with the internet, technology is now a key part of helping new customers discover the business.


    Early riser Michael Everett from Village Bakery makes some final adjustments before another day satisfying Dubbo's appetites

    Yesterday we paid a visit to Dubbo to meet the local small business community and help them use the web to grow. It was the second stop of our small business roadshow, in which we have teamed up with the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry to help Aussie small businesses prosper and grow online.

    Over 100 of Dubbo’s small business owners joined us to learn how to get found on Google Maps and Search, create a free online profile with opening hours and photos, generate driving directions to their location and take their first steps with online marketing.



    The Member for Parkes, the Hon Mark Coulton MP, joined us and explained how technology is increasingly important for small businesses in his regional electorate, which is the combined size of Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Austria and Switzerland.

    That’s a lot of ground to cover. The good news is, if you jump on the Village Bakery website, you can see where else in NSW you can get hold of a Village Bakery pie for the road.

    Posted by Rich Flanagan, Head of Small Business Marketing, Google Australia