Chromebook OS Accessibility Tools

While many students know the accessibility features of Read and Write for Google Chrome, sometimes the accessibility tools built right into the Chrome operating system are overlooked.  

To find the accessibility options built into the Chromebook, enable Accessibility options in the system menu. Toggling this on allows students quick access to the wide variety of tools available. It also allows you to help students disable features quickly when they have been accidentally enabled. High contrast mode, fullscreen magnifier and large mouse cursor are all in the menu!

To find accessibility options, click on the oblong shape around the time (alt + shift + s) on the shelf in the bottom right corner of the screen.

Then click on the gear (or flower, as some students call it) to open settings.

Search for accessibility in the search bar at the top, and toggle on “Always show accessibility options in the system menu”.

Now when you click on the oblong shape around the time, you will see a little accessibility person and when you click on the little arrow beside the person, you will see a list of accessibility options. You can tap on them to turn them on and off.  


When a feature is enabled, a little green circled check mark appears to the right.

These tools are updated regularly and although several were created to meet some very specific needs, you’ll find that many of them can benefit everyone. These tools just keep improving. Three of my favourite tools are Select-to-Speak, Dictation and the On-Screen Keyboard.

Select-to-Speak

This tool allows users to select text on the screen to be read aloud. Once enabled, a small “select-to-speak” icon appears in the tray at the bottom of the Chromebook screen. Once the icon is clicked, text on the screen can be highlighted or tapped, and it will be read aloud. Alternatively, the magnifying glass can be held down while text is clicked or highlighted. Tapping the “select-to-speak” icon or the “ctrl” key stops the reading when necessary.  

This tool is beneficial to anyone who needs or wants text read aloud. It can be used on almost any website, including docs, slides and forms (even in locked mode, using the keyboard shortcuts), and most pdfs.

Speed, pitch, volume and language of the voice can be changed in settings by searching for “text-to-speech”.

Dictation

The dictation tool is a fairly recent addition to the Chrome OS accessibility toolbar. As a voice-typer, this is my favourite tool, by far. There are so many beneficial uses. Recently I used it with students trying to find a place in Google Maps, with students who think faster than they can write and with a student whose first language is not English. (For some ELL students, the Voice Typing tool built right into Google Docs is easier, because changing the language appears right on the microphone).  Once enabled, teachers no longer hear the words, “How do you spell ….?” And as a teacher, voice-typing can really speed up typing report card comments!

With the microphone on the Chromebook shelf, users just have to place their cursor where they would like to type, then click the microphone to begin speaking. Alternatively, clicking on the magnifying glass/search button and the letter d, will activate the microphone. Initially many students require practice to include punctuation by saying the name of the punctuation mark they would like typed.  They can also say things such as, “new line” and “new paragraph”. Additional commands can be found here.  Like the select-to-speak, this tool works almost anywhere including locked mode in Google quizzes using the keyboard shortcuts.

On-Screen Keyboard

DDSB Chromebooks convert to tablets which makes this tool very handy.  When it is enabled, the on-screen keyboard can be toggled on and off from the icon on the Chromebook shelf. The keyboard then works the same way your keyboard works on a phone or any other tablet. But it does have a few interesting features.

At the top of the keyboard, there is a small squiggly line.  This line opens a on-screen handwriting tool, where students can print and the text is typed onto the screen. Using their finger, a stylus or a pencil (on 300e only), students can practice their handwriting skills. Pressing the shift button on the onscreen keyboard changes the letters from lowercase to uppercase and the numbers to their corresponding symbols which can be a big help with young students.  

The dictation microphone is also embedded right into the on-screen keyboard giving students the option of typing, speaking or writing, all in one place. And every students favourite part of the on-screen keyboard is the availability of emojis! Click on the happy face at the bottom of the keyboard to find them.

There are so many accessibility features available to students now. We can’t be experts on all of them but it is our job as educators to be seek out and become familiar with tools that meet the needs in our classrooms. To learn more about the accessibility tools available on Chromebooks, click here. You might be surprised at what you find!

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