How to Enable and Utilize Chromebook Accessibility Features

chromebook accessibility represented by a laptop with a magnifying glass in front of it

lvcandy / Getty Images

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.

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Add More Accessibility Features

chromebook accessibility screenshot

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 checkmark 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • High Contrast: This extension assists when the text on a website may be hard to decipher, due in part to the 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.
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Large Cursor, High Contrast, Sticky Keys, and ChromeVox

chromebook accessibility screenshot

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 screenshot above, is as follows.

  • 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.
  • Show large mouse cursor: When enabled, your Chromebook's mouse cursor will appear several times larger than its default size.
  • Use high contrast mode: When enabled, the color scheme of your Chromebook is instantly inverted — making text and other items easier to read.
  • 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.
  • 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.
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Magnifier, Tap Dragging, Mouse Pointer, and On-Screen Keyboard

chromebook accessibility screenshot

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.

  • Enable screen magnifier: When toggled on, all items on the Chromebook screen are enlarged.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.