As October is Disability Employment Awareness Month in the United States, it seems fitting that this latest build of Chrome OS focuses in on improving accessibility features across the board on Chromebooks. The update is set to begin rolling out later today, but Google has already shared some of the new features we expect to see in the update. Let’s look through all the new stuff, shall we?
As a color deficient individual myself, this new feature will be one I’ll likely give a try. It’s as simple as it sounds and Chrome OS will allow users to swap their mouse cursor color to one of seven new options: red,yellow, green, cyan, blue, magenta or pink. In the ‘Mouse and touchpad’ area of settings, you will now be able to adjust this setting right alongside the ability to change the cursor size, speed and acceleration.
Select-to-speak is a feature that lets users with visual impairments have either the entire screen read aloud or only selected text. As it works right now, it can be a bit difficult to keep up with where the reader is on the page at any given moment, so Google is adding the ability for Chrome OS to darken the parts of the screen not being read while highlighting the parts that are being read. This should greatly assist in the ability for users who need this feature to more easily follow along to what is being read aloud.
Google’s built-in screen reader – ChromeVox – is also getting a bit of an upgrade in the form of new automatic voice switching depending on the language of the page, allowing Chrome to automatically detect the right voice for the job. They’ve also added some improved navigation elements and a Smart Sticky Mode that you can try out by searching for ChromeVox over in your Chromebook settings.
Accessible PDF exports
In yet another handy feature, Chrome can now export websites as more-accessible PDFs that come with auto-generated headings, links, tables, and alt-text that make sites far easier for use with screen readers. For vision impaired users, this is a big step towards making more of the web simpler to access.
New guides and hubs for help
For users looking for all the ways their Chromebook can be leveraged for better accessibility, Google has compiled tons of resources over at the Chromebook Accessibility Hub and in the new Guardian’s Guide for parents needing a bit of help navigating the already-tricky task of distance learning.
With these tools, users and parents can get the tools and assistance they need to make the best use of their Chromebooks. As Google continues to add more and more of these features, it’s good to see guides and hubs available to users who will be looking for ways to actually use them.
I’m sure there will be countless other small updates in Chrome OS that we’ll uncover over the next week or so, but I really like Google making accessibility a primary focus for a large update cycle. The more general consumers we have adopting Chromebooks, the more these sorts of features need to be in place, working well, and and easily available for those who need them.