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How to Enable and Utilize Chromebook Accessibility Features

How to Enable and Utilize Chromebook Accessibility Features 

Chromebook Settings
For the visually impaired, or for users with limited ability to operate a keyboard or mouse, performing even the simplest of tasks on a computer can prove to be challenging. Thankfully, Google provides several helpful features centered around accessibility in the Chrome operating system.

This functionality ranges from spoken audio feedback to a screen magnifier, and assists in creating an enjoyable browsing experience for all. The majority of these accessibility features are disabled by default, and must be toggled on before they can be used. This tutorial explains each pre-installed option and walks you through the process of enabling them, as well as how to install additional features.

If your Chrome browser is already open, click on the Chrome menu button -- represented by three horizontal lines and located in the upper right hand corner of your browser window. When the drop-down menu appears, click on Settings.

If your Chrome browser is not already open, the Settings interface can also be accessed via Chrome's taskbar menu, located in the lower right hand corner of your screen. 

Add More Accessibility Features
Chrome OS's Settings interface should now be displayed. Scroll down and click on the Show advanced settings... link. Next, scroll down again until the Accessibility section is visible.

In this section you will notice a number of options, each accompanied by an empty checkbox -- signifying that each of these features is currently disabled. To enable one or more, simply place a check mark in its respective box by clicking on it once. In the following steps of this tutorial we describe each of these accessibility features.

You will also notice a link at the top of the Accessibility section labeled Add additional accessibility features. Clicking on this link will bring you to the accessibility section of the Chrome Web Store, which allows you to install the following apps and extensions.

  1. Long Descriptions in Context Menu: longdesc or aria-describedat attributes, sometimes associated with images on a Web page, contain long-form descriptions of the images themselves. Often utilized by screen reader software, these descriptions are intended to assist the visually impaired by offering details of what the image represents or depicts. This browser extension makes this descriptive text available via Chrome's context menu. 
  2. Caret Browsing: Provides the ability to navigate through Web page text via the arrow keys, similar to a text editor or word processor. Caret Browsing also lets you move the cursor one word at a time and select blocks of text using keyboard shortcuts. 
  3. Image Alt Text Viewer: Alt text associated with an image usually contains a title or short description pertaining to the image itself, and is used for both SEO and accessibility purposes. With Image Alt Text Viewer, all images on a Web page can be automatically replaced with their related alt text via a single mouse click. 
  4. High Contrast: This extension assists when text on a website may be hard to decipher, due in part to font or background colors on the page, by letting you choose from several high contrast filters -- toggled on and off by a designated keyboard shortcut.
Large Cursor, High Contrast, Sticky Keys, and ChromeVox
As mentioned in the previous step, Chrome OS's Accessibility settings contains multiple features that can be enabled via their accompanying checkbox. The first group, highlighted in the screen shot above, is as follows.

  1. Show accessibility options in the system menu: When enabled, several of Chrome OS's accessibility options can be accessed via the system menu, located by clicking on the time/status bar found in the lower right-hand corner of your screen. 
  2. Show large mouse cursor: When enabled, your Chromebook's mouse cursor will appear several times larger than its default size. 
  3. Use high contrast mode: When enabled, the color scheme of your Chromebook is instantly inverted -- making text and other items easier to read. 
  4. Enable sticky keys: Sticky keys provide the ability to utilize keyboard shortcuts which require multiple keys by pressing each one sequentially, as opposed to all at the same time. For example, to type a capital letter you would normally have to hold down the Shift key and that letter simultaneously. With sticky keys enabled, you would first hit the Shift key and then the desired letter. 
  5. Enable ChromeVox: An integrated screen reader built upon popular open-source Web technologies, ChromeVox makes it easier for visually impaired users to browse website content via audio feedback.
Magnifier, Tap Dragging, Mouse Pointer, and On-Screen Keyboard
The following features, also available in Chrome OS's Accessibility settings and disabled by default, can be toggled on by clicking on their respective checkboxes.

  1. Enable screen magnifier: When toggled on, all items on the Chromebook screen are enlarged. 
  2. Enable tap dragging: When enabled, you can tap an icon, or selection, and then drag it to a new location with your touchpad eliminating the need for a mouse click. 
  3. Automatically click when the mouse pointer stops: When enabled, a single left-click of the mouse is simulated each time your mouse pointer ceases to move. The drop-down menu accompanying this feature allows you to specify the time interval between the mouse pointer stopping and the actual click taking place, broken down into the following options: extremely short, very short (default), short, long, and very long. 
  4. Enable on-screen keyboard: When toggled on, a keyboard icon is added to the Chromebook's status bar -- located at the bottom of the screen. Clicking on that icon causes a fully functional on-screen keyboard to be displayed on the screen's bottom half.
Manage Chromebook Search Engines and Google Voice 
 Chrome Settings
Although Google holds a lion's share of the market, there are plenty of viable alternatives available when it comes to search engines. And although Chromebooks run on the company's own operating system, they still provide the ability to utilize a different option when it comes to searching the Web.

The default search engine used by the Chrome browser on Chrome OS is, to no surprise, Google. This default option is utilized any time you initiate a search from the browser's address bar, also known as the omnibox. Managing Chrome OS's search engines can be done through its browser settings, and this tutorial walks you through the process. We also detail Google's voice search feature and explain how to use it.

If your Chrome browser is already open, click on the Chrome menu button -- represented by three horizontal lines and located in the upper right hand corner of your browser window. When the drop-down menu appears, click on Settings.

If your Chrome browser is not already open, the Settings interface can also be accessed via Chrome's taskbar menu, located in the lower right hand corner of your screen. 

Change Default Search Engine
Chrome OS's Settings interface should now be displayed. Scroll down until you locate the Search section. The first item found in this section is a drop-down menu, containing the following options: Google (default), Yahoo!, Bing, Ask, AOL. To change Chrome's default browser, select the desired option from this menu.

You are not limited to using these five choices, however, as Chrome allows you to set other search engines as your default. To do so, first click on the Manage search engines button. You should now see the Search engines pop-up window, shown in the example above, containing two sections: Default search settings and Other search engines. When you hover your mouse cursor over any of the options shown in either section, you'll notice that a blue and white Make default button appears. Selecting this will immediately set this search engine as the default option, and will also add it to the drop-down list described in the previous paragraph -- if it is not already there.

To completely remove a search engine from the default list, or from the Other search engines section, hover your mouse cursor over it and click on the "x" -- shown to the far right of its name. Please note that you cannot delete whichever search engine is currently set as the default. 

Add a New Search Engine
The options found in the Other search engines section are typically stored there whenever you visit a website that contains its own internal search mechanism. In addition to these, you can also manually add a new search engine to Chrome by taking the following steps.

First, return to the Search engines window if you are not already there. Next, scroll to the bottom until you see the edit fields highlighted in the screen shot above. In the field labeled Add a new search engine, enter the name of the search engine. The value entered in this field is arbitrary, in the sense that you can name your new entry whatever you wish. Next, in the Keyword field, enter the search engine's domain (i.e., Finally, enter the full URL in the third edit field -- replacing where the actual keyword query would go with the following characters: %s 

Chrome Voice Search
Chrome's voice search feature allows you to perform a number of actions in the browser itself as well as in Chrome OS's App Launcher without using your keyboard or mouse. The first step to being able to use voice search is to configure a working microphone. Some Chromebooks have built-in mics, while others require an external device.

Next, you'll need to enable the feature by first returning to Chrome's Search settings -- detailed in Step 2 of this tutorial. Once there, place a check mark next to the option labeled Enable "Ok Google" to start a voice search by clicking on its accompanying check box once.

You are now ready to use the voice search feature, which can be activated in Chrome's New Tab window, on or in the App Launcher interface. To initiate a voice search, first speak the words Ok Google into the microphone. Next, say what you are looking for (i.e., How do I clear browsing history?), and let Chrome do the rest.

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