Google is committed to bringing the best tech to all their users, including users with disabilities. Through assistive technology on Chrome devices and G Suite, and by supporting accessibility-based Chrome extensions, Google is making sure that all are welcome and able to use their products. Here are some of the ways they do this.
Chrome OS Assistive Technology
Did you know that Chrome devices come pre-programmed with assistive tech features? To access them, go to your settings, scroll to the bottom, and press “Advanced”. Then continue to “Accessibility”, and finally click “Manage accessibility features”. Then you’ll be able to choose which settings you want to turn on.
Here are some features to make note of:
ChromeVox is a screen reader that uses text-to-speech technology to help people with vision loss or reading difficulties. In addition to reading the copy on a page, ChromeVox also describes special text formats(such as the number of columns and rows in a data table) and lets users move throughout a page with keyboard commands. This way users can move the cursor around a page, even if they can’t see it.
Android tablets come with a similar screen reader called TalkBack.
Another way of making a screen experience better for people with visual impairments is by adjusting the display options. High contrast mode changes Chrome’s normal white screen with black type to a black screen with white text and yellow accents, which can be easier to read. There’s also the option to enable a screen magnifier, which lets users pan over an ultra-zoomed in screen. You can also edit the settings for web pages by customizing the font type, size, and the amount of page-zoom automatically applied.
Keyboard, Mouse, and Touchpad
People with restricted mobility will be interested in using their keyboard, mouse, and touchpad to make their Chrome experience easier. While there are almost a dozen different features, here are some of the key ones:
- Sticky Keys, which lets you use key shortcuts by typing the input keys individually instead of having to press them at the same time.
- On-Screen Keyboard, a way of typing by clicking letter keys on a screen with a mouse.
- Auto Click, which automatically clicks when the mouse cursor stops.
Google’s added a mono audio option for people with partial hearing loss. By playing audio from both/all speakers, people who can’t hear from both ears can still experience the full audio, versus the limited version they’d hear in stereo mode.
G Suite users who need additional support have several options for better functional experiences within the apps. Google Docs has a voice writing option that is great for people who prefer talking to typing. Many people feel like they get the best results from using an external microphone. However, you can start by using your Chromebook’s internal microphone to see if you like voice typing. Additionally, Google Docs lets you format text vocally, with commands such as “select paragraph” and “italics”.
Google has also made the main G Suite products compatible with Braille displays. Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Drawings can all interface with Braille displays to allow users to read and enter text.
While Google’s made a good start in Chrome accessibility, there are many extensions that help with specific functional needs. Eric Curts, a Google for Education certified trainer and innovator, has over 30 extension recommendations to aid in a variety of accessibility situations for both students and adults. Some highlights include:
While Google Docs has a voice typing option, VoiceIn will let users use talk-to-text in any textbox, including Gmail.
OpenDyslexic overwrites all web fonts to use one that has been specifically designed for people with dyslexia to have an easier time reading.
This extension lets people with limited mobility use keyboard shortcuts to navigate the web instead of moving and clicking a mouse.
Technology should be available to everyone, and Google is trying to make this a reality. Google works with people with a variety of abilities throughout product design. Then they have new products reviewed through their Accessibility Trusted Tester program before they’re released to the general public. Through these programs- and prioritizing an accessible user experience- Google is bringing Chrome devices to people with all sorts of user needs.
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