Bridge Learning Gaps with Google Workspace For Education's Accessibility Features

Bridge Learning Gaps with Google Workspace For Education's Accessibility Features
June 27, 2024 8 min read

Harold Weber knows the obstacles that come with navigating a world that’s not always set up for accessibility.

I attended regular public schools and graduated from college in the late '90s. At that time, many people were encouraged to pursue IT jobs, which was puzzling since much of the technology wasn’t accessible to me, making it incredibly difficult to find work in coding or network administration.

Choosing to use his experiences to benefit others, Harold shifted his focus to education. Now at https://msad.msa.state.mn.us/, he teaches skills that empower those with similar challenges—assistive technology, Braille, and daily living skills.

While discussing his motivation, he shared:

Being a person who is blind myself, I realized it was frustrating to be told by people who have sight how easy it is to do certain things. I just wanted to be a role model for other blind people.

Harold’s experience highlights the impact that accessible technology tools can have on students with vision impairments. 

The same goes for students with all types of learning differences: Inclusive tools–that meet a broad spectrum of needs–break down barriers and open up a world where every student can thrive.

Inclusive Learning for All

One in ten children worldwide lives with a disability. These students often face significant challenges in school. They might find it more difficult than their peers to progress through grades, deal with more disciplinary actions, have a higher chance of dropping out, and later, may struggle to find employment.

Google Workspace for Education is designed to help bridge the gap. Baked into Google for EDU are dozens of accessibility features designed for a whole spectrum of learning differences. With them, teachers and learners can “customize their learning tools and create inclusive learning environments so they can learn, teach, and collaborate with confidence.” 

Let’s take a closer look at how Google Workspace for Education can help craft engaging education for EVERYONE, regardless of learning style and ability.

visual representation of the fact that one in ten children worldwide live with a disability visual representation of the fact that one in ten children worldwide live with a disability
1 in 10 children worldwide live with a disability [Source:https://data.unicef.org/topic/child-disability/overview/]

Empowering Every Student with Google Workspace for Education

Weber sees firsthand the difference accessibility tools make.

The ability of our students to have access to the same information but do it in any format they need is the biggest benefit of technology. As a teacher, I can create one document, and students can use a refreshable Braille display, magnification, or voice to access it. Technology also makes books available to the students at the same time as their sighted peers.

This is where Google Workspace for Education shines. It not only offers specialized accessibility tools but also ensures seamless integration with existing educational technologies, like the Braille displays in Weber’s classroom... Let’s explore how these features help students achieve more:

Vision Accessibility in Google Workspace for Education

So much of today's learning is visual, from reading assignments on screens to interacting with digital content. Without the right tools, students can really struggle. And it's not just about classroom convenience - vision impairments can seriously impact a child's development. Children with early onset vision impairments may face delays in language, emotional, social, and cognitive development, with long-term effects on their educational achievement.

Here’s some ways Google Workspace steps up to make a difference:

  • Screen Magnifiers and High Contrast Themes: Think of this like turning up the brightness and clarity on a visual display. It helps students see everything more clearly, making it easier to focus and understand content.
  • Braille Support: This tool transforms digital text into Braille, allowing students to 'read' their screens through touch. Note: A separate Braille display device is required to utilize this feature.

 

A website article is viewed in Reading Mode using Google Workspace accesibility featureA website article is viewed in Reading Mode using Google Workspace accesibility feature
Display and vision tools with Google Workspace for Education. [Source:https://edu.google.com/intl/ALL_us/why-google/accessibility/]

Weber, who works with these challenges every day, has seen the difference these tools make:

I've had a student who was reading at a fifth-grade level and struggling to complete work; now, with the help of a laptop, they have graduated and are taking college classes. Using magnification, my students can engage with visual content on their own terms. Braille support opens up new worlds for them, letting them tap into the digital conversation as easily as their sighted classmates.

Hearing Accessibility in Google Workspace for Education

When students struggle with even mild hearing loss, it can cause them to miss about half of what's said in class. That’s a significant barrier as it doesn’t just affect their ability to follow a lecture— it can also impact their social interactions and overall school success. Here are some ways Google Workspace combats those barriers:

  • Just like subtitles on TV, live captions in Google Meet display a real-time text version of the conversation. This feature ensures that students who are deaf or hard of hearing can follow every word during virtual classes and meetings, helping them stay connected and engaged.

    Tip: Use Companion Mode to extend this accessibility feature to in-person instruction, so that all students can benefit from live captions, regardless of their learning environment.
  • Closed captions in Google Slides automatically transcribe spoken text during live presentations, making it easier for students with hearing challenges to grasp the material being discussed.
a group of indiviudals participating in an online meeting viewed on a computer screena group of indiviudals participating in an online meeting viewed on a computer screen
Live Captions on Google Meet. [Source:https://edu.google.com/intl/ALL_us/why-google/accessibility/]

Mobility Accessibility in Google Workspace for Education

Whether it's difficulty using hands or limited movement, Google Workspace has got it covered. But how? Well, think about a student who may not have the easiest time typing. Voice Typing in Google Workspace for Education helps by letting them speak their ideas directly into documents, presentations, and discussions. This means no more struggling to type! Weber shares the benefits of this feature:

They make it possible for everyone to participate in education. If you can't use your fingers, you can dictate. Screen readers and voice typing make it possible for students to complete their work independently. They can create information that sighted teachers can read and correct.

And for students who prefer using their keyboard over a mouse, customizable keyboard shortcuts offer a quick way to navigate and interact with the program. These shortcuts essentially act like special instructions that unlock faster ways to navigate different parts of the program. They can move around and interact with everything much quicker, making learning more efficient.

Cognitive Accessibility in Google Workspace for Education

Now, let’s talk about the tools that help the 1 in 5 children in the U.S. who navigate learning and thinking differences like dyslexia and ADHD and other learning disabilities. That's right—Google Workspace for Education has solutions for these students too!

  • Built-in Grammar and Spell Check: This feature helps students with learning differences, like ADHD or dyslexia, maintain focus by automating error correction. Instead they can focus their attention to concentrating and crafting ideas without the distraction of fixing spelling and grammar mistakes.
  • Explore: This tool allows students to find and access a wide variety of educational resources, suggestions, tools, and information instantly, making it easier for them to gather and organize information for their assignments.
  • Select-to-Speak: This feature allows students to highlight text and have it read aloud, which can help with comprehension and retention, especially for those with reading difficulties.

Explore the full set of accessible tools in Google Workspace for Education here and start making a difference in your classroom today!

The Device for Everyone: Accessibility Features in Chromebooks

Accessibility features are baked into everything that Google for Education does. You can find even more tools to maximize learning for every child right in ChromeOS. Check out this webinar with Eric Curts where we talk about them!

Try A Free Demo!

Explore Accessibility Tools Within Google Workspace for Education and Empower Every Student

We're here to assist you in integrating these solutions smoothly into your educational processes. Our goal is ensure that technology is a bridge, not a barrier, for your students!

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