How do you keep students - especially young students - safe when they are doing online research? Can you prevent students from stumbling across inappropriate pictures and content? Thankfully, there are kid-friendly search engines that block inappropriate word searches and that direct students to sites that are age-appropriate. Since there are numerous kid-friendly search engines available, let's take a look at how accessible these popular search engines are for students who are visually impaired and blind. Most of these kid-friendly search engines provide similar search results, meaning that they link to the same kid-friendly resources. This post will consider the accessibility features of each search engine and compare how user-friendly the layout and organization of each search engine is for young students with visual impairments and blindness.
- Basic Accessibility: The following websites have basic accessibility, meaning that screen readers will read the text and buttons are labeled and work with a screen reader.
- Images: Pictures should have Alt Tags or a text description of the meaning of the picture. Because the search engines link to other websites which may or may not use alt tags, some images are labeled correctly and while other images are not.
- Headings: Screen readers use Headings to browse through the website and/or to quickly jump to the important pieces of the website (typically skipping sections of lesser importance and ads). Headings are typically the important bold print text on the website. Headings are only accessed when the screen reader is running. To access Headings on an iPad, set the Rotor to Headings (two finger twist like rotating a dial, stopping on Headings), then one finger swipe down/up to move forward/backwards through headings.
- Reader: This feature is available on Apple devices. When an article is opened and the Reader feature is available, VoiceOver will announce, "Reader Available". When selected, the Reader displays only the article's text, images and videos and eliminates adds and other blocks of text that are found on the website. The Reader button is in the Tool bar to the left of the URL. To quickly toggle the Reader on/off on an iPad, press Command + Shift + R.
Top Kid-Friendly Search Engines
Note: The screenshots are all iPad screenshots; some of the websites look different when accessed with a computer.
- Kiddle: Top-rated kid-friendly search engine. The website layout is simple, uncluttered and easy for students with low vision and for students who use a screen reader. Inappropriate words/topics are blocked. Teachers/parents can request blocking additional sites that are found to be inappropriate. Kiddle uses big thumbnails for each search result, making the website ideal for young students and students with visual impairments. There are four tabs: Web Search, Images, News, and Videos. Videos are educational and student appropriate; these are not YouTube videos. Kiddle does not have accessible Headings; the Reader is available. Teacher Hint: Many Kiddle search results will include worksheets and/or fun facts related to that search.
- KidRex: Another popular kid-friendly search engine. The website layout is also simple and uncluttered. KidRex does not have tabs; all search results are lumped together. KidRex does not have accessible Headings; the Reader is available.
- KidTopia: Geared for preschool and elementary students. Do a Word search or select a topic from the following categories: Sci/Tech, Social Studies, Arts, Language Arts, People, Animals, Games/Activities, Countries, and Math. These topics include links to videos, facts, and appropriate websites. Note: The images on the topic tabs are animated, meaning there is constant movement of these images which may be distracting for some students. Select a topic and more subtopics are available. Select a subtopic to view numerous high quality, uncluttered educational videos related to that topic. When doing a web search, this website has more ads that appear before the first search result. Students using a screen reader must navigate through these ads before accessing the search results. Since Headings do not work, navigating through the large number of adds ads is challenging.
- Kid's Search: The Home screen on the Kid's Search Engine is more cluttered with text than the other kid-friendly search engines. At the top are 5 Tabs: Web, Pictures, Videos, Games, and More. Under the Search texfield are 4 additional tabs: References, Education, Recreation, and Tools. Each of these tabs have multiple subcategories. For students with visual impairments and for students using a screen reader, this Home page will be more challenging to navigate due to the amount of text and the number of tabs. The Headings feature does work at the top of the search page; however, headings do not work with the search results. The Reader is available.
- KidzSearch: (Note, this website is spelled with a "z"; "k-i-d-z-S-e-a-r-c-h".) The website's uncluttered Homescreen has the search textfield easily located at the top, followed by categories. The categories are: KidsTalk, Games, KidzTube, Pictures, TopSites, Music, Cool Facts, Kids News, Encyclopedia, and Boolify. On the iPad, the categories are in a "bar" layout (run across the page) instead of small tabs and the screen is uncluttered. On a computer, there are additions images and text, creating a very cluttered home screen. KidzSearch has numerous popup ads that the other websites do not have. The Headings feature does work on the Home screen; however, the Headings feature does not work on most of the search result pages. The Reader is often available.
Kiddle is currently my top kid-friendly search engine, due to the simple, uncluttered design, user-friendliness and the large thumbnails. However, each of these search engines offers unique features, such as the clear videos on KidTopeia. Unfortunately, the accessibility feature, Headings, has not been fully incorporated into these search engines.
Please share YOUR favorite accessible kid-friendly search engine!