Chromebooks: What are they and are they accessible?

By Stuart Beveridge


What is a Chromebook?

A chromebook is a laptop computer which has the google chrome operating system built-in. Just like windows and Apple Mac computers, Chromebooks can be used for everyday tasks such as word processing, working with email, using the internet and so much more. They are also a lot cheaper to buy, although if you have never used one before, it does take a bit of getting used to. However, I am one of those people who did decide to persevere and learn how to use a Chromebook and it is now my laptop of choice.

Why choose a Chromebook?

As I have already said, they are a much cheaper alternative to windows and Apple computers. The main reason for this, is because they require very little storage, my Chromebook only has 32gb. This is of little concern because any work I do is saved and backed up online automatically. For me at least, this is a huge advantage, as it means that I don’t have to back anything up on to an external device such as a memory stick or SD card. It also means that, if for any reason my Chromebook stopped working or was lost or stolen, I could just replace it for less than £200 and all of my previous work would be immediately available after signing-in with my Google account details. While there are other online storage services available, in most cases, you can only use a limited amount of storage. You will then be charged either monthly or yearly if you want to use more. This is not the case with Chromebooks, unless you need to store vast amounts of information. The final point to note, is that Chromebooks don’t pick up viruses very often if at all, because they are continually performing automatic updates in the background when the device is switched on. There is nothing you need to do, just let the Chromebook do the work.

So now we need to ask the question, how accessible are Chromebooks for people with a visual impairment?

The short answer is completely accessible. They have a number of built-in accessibility features to assist people who have low vision or for those who are unable to see the screen and therefore need to use a screen reader. Google’s version of a built-in screen reader is called ChromeVox and it can be used to navigate the entire Chrome operating system and will also work with the Google suite of apps which include:

  • Google Docs [for word processing];
  • Google Sheets [ when you need to work with spreadsheets];
  • Gmail [for email];
  • Google Chrome [for web browsing];
  • Google slides [for PowerPoint presentations];
  • Google Calendar [for scheduling and keeping track of appointments]; and
  • Google Drive [where all of your files and folders can be accessed]

To turn the ChromeVox screen reader on, press the keystroke Control+alt+z. This is a toggle keystroke to enable and disable the screen reader. When you turn ChromeVox on for the first time, you are taken through a quick start tutorial, which walks you through the basics of using ChromeVox. There are also other fantastic help features built-in to the screen reader, mainly a keyboard learn mode and a keyboard commands menu, which you can access at any time by pressing certain keystrokes.

Final thoughts

After making the decision to purchase a Chromebook and persevere in terms of learning the new operating system and screen reader, I can honestly say that the positives far outweigh the negatives and while Chromebooks obviously won’t be everyone’s preference, they should be seriously considered when making the decision about what computer will best suit your needs.