While Google is leading in many areas when it comes to connecting classrooms with educational technology, they are a bit behind other tech companies when it comes to making those learning opportunities accessible to all learners. Their recent efforts at spoken feedback, voice commands and more have long been standards on other platforms. They have made some strides recently to improve accessibility on their platform and encourage partners to do the same. Recently though there was a setback as talk of partially banning accessibility services has been discussed due to security risks.
Some of the highlights include their work in improving accessibility features of websites, but the new Google Sites, while a major improvement on the classic version visually, is still lacking some accessibility basics like alt text for photos. It can be forgiven though due to its newness. Google’s Voice Access is also another nice foray into improving access to users with disabilities. There are several other accessible products and features that make their platform more available, but I think what really helps to close the accessibility gap between Google and other platforms are the vast number of 3rd party apps and extensions to make their tools more user-friendly for students with additional challenges. So whether you’re a teacher who works with special needs students or just wants to aid your struggling readers, here are some of my favorite Google-friendly tools to help you.
“Focus not on the differences of people with disabilities but the talent of the individual.”
Neil Milliken, Head of ATOS Accessibility & Digital Inclusion
ACCESSIBILITY & UDL
For the Google fans, educators, and tech aficionados who may be less familiar with accessibility, here is my 30-second overview. Accessibility is the concept that all learning experiences, the internet chief-most among them, should be designed to work for all people. That means there should be an effort to give direct or indirect access to devices and services. The is done through the lens of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) which dictates how we facilitate that access. UDL is about creating a FLEXIBLE ENVIRONMENT with A VARIETY OF OPTIONS so learners can figure out what works best for them. In my district/classroom, this may mean improving engagement, adapting the environment, or provide a tool for communication an understanding. This may be as simple as a step-stool or pointer to allow little people access to an interactive display or as technologically advanced as an augmentative communication or telepresence device. It’s not about equality but rather equitable access for all. The goal is for students to become adults who can advocate for themselves as much or as they choose. By examining the WHAT, HOW, & WHY of learning we work towards the goals of INDEPENDENCE & SELF-ADVOCACY.
To start, Google has some wonderful built-in Android accessibility features that you may be unfamiliar with. This includes your standard text-to-speech and speech-to-text, display/contrast adjustments, and BrailleBack for the visually impaired. ChromeVox is their latest attempt at a comprehensive screen reader. Switch access is used to allow external switches and Voice Access allows speech control for those with physical impairments. They also have captions, video chats, and compatible hearing aids like the ReSound for the hearing impaired. You could also install the Open-Dyslexic font to help readers with dyslexia.
Separately, Intersection Explorer is a nice app for speaking directions and, though it’s not innately an accessibility tool, Google Translate is an awesome tool that allows ENL students access to learning. Did you know you can translate text, voice, and physical signs through the translate camera? You can find it online as well as in the Android and iTunes stores. Even though New York has staff translators you can call, I’ve definitely used this for meeting with parents who weren’t native English speakers. Alternately there is Tinycards by Duolingo which gives you language-learning flash cards.
Extensions, Web Apps, & Add-Ons
Now that you know the why, we’ll explore the what. The first key is to know the difference between Google’s Chrome extensions, web apps, and app add-ons. Extensions are like little extras to help your Chrome web-browsing experience. Apps are stand-alone programs either used in Chrome or the Android environment. Add-Ons are, just like they sound, a way to add to your Google experience with their tools like Docs or Slides. Eric Curts gives a more thorough breakdown of what each does.
There are so many apps to help struggling learners, especially with literacy. The ones with stars deserve special attention.
- ⭐️DocentEDU -turn a website into an instructional assessment
- ⭐️Goobric – the machine for rubrics
- Google Dictionary-good for definitions/pronunciation
- SMMRY, TLDR, or Resumer -summarize articles
- Share to Classroom-teacher tool to help send things to Google Classroom
- Draftback (play revision history)
- Plagiarism Checker or Plagiarisma
- Tab Resize/Tab Scissors-split screen
- ⭐️BeeLine Reader -for struggling readers, breaks down the text by colors for long passages
- ⭐️Read & Write -the all-in-one literacy accessibility tool
- Grammarly-best grammar/spell-checker around
- Mercury Reader-remove reading distractions
- Co: Writer-word prediction
- Read Aloud, Voice Instead, or Announcify – text to speech
- VoiceIn Voice Typing – Speech to Text
- Mercury Reader, OpenDyslexic, Readline, Visor – Readability
- High Contrast, Color Enhancer, CraftyZoom – Visibility
- CrafyCursor, Click-free Browsing, Vimium, CrxMouse – easier navigation
- Move It – brain breaks
- Say Hi Tabletop – translation goes back and forth
- ⭐️EasyBib Bibliography Creator
- ⭐️Kaizena-spoken/video student feedback
- ⭐️OrangeSlice: Teacher Rubric-rubric maker
- ⭐️LucidChart Diagrams
- VexTab Music Notation
- g(Math)-math notation
- Pupil Pref-change background color
- ⭐️Doctopus -manage & organize student projects-pair it with orange slice
- ⭐️Power tools– All in one chart editing
- Flubaroo -was my go-to for grading forms, but it’s no longer necessary with built informs grading
- Autocrat (doc merge-sample document)
- g(Math)-math notation
- SiteMaestro (manage portfolios)
- FormMule (generate emails from spreadsheets)
- Super Quiz
- Random Generator
- Form Publisher (Turn form entries into documents)
- Form Ranger (Control the parameters of entries)
- ⭐️Math Learning Center Apps-math visualizations
- Google Play Books-ebooks allow for text to speech, definition, digital notes, and more accessible help
- Google Keep – note-taking that can be done with speech-to-text
- Lensoo Create – virtual whiteboard
- Toontastic 3D – a 3D storytelling app
- ⭐️A Blind Legend – a fully auditory game
- ⭐️Picto4Me – AAC for Google Drive
- Eye-D-camera exploration for the blind
- IFTTT-applets that allow control of everything around you with your voice
- Open Sesame App-touch-free Android control
- Swiftkey Symbols
Unless you’re just adding these for yourself, you’ll likely want to do an installation across students devices. There are a few methods, each of which allows you to only push the tools to certain sub-organizations in your Google Education domain. In device management, you can go to Chrome management then user settings. The is a Force-installed Apps section that will allow you to make all the changes you need. This only applies to apps and extensions. Add-ons are managed individually in Drive and individual Docs apps. You can find a complete guide to installing apps & extensions in Google help.