More than 40 million people in the US have a disability, and for many of these individuals, life online is a daily struggle. This digital divide is a growing issue for workplaces that are eager to accommodate their staff but don’t always have the right tech tools in place to do so.

Thankfully, tech companies are addressing this issue, leveraging the power of technology to make tasks like surfing the web, reading emails, listening to presentations, and participating in video conferences more accessible to all. 

Google is spearheading these efforts with a focus on accessibility that’s built into the company’s core values, according to CEO Sundar Pichai, who says: “When we say we want to build for everyone – we mean it. We don’t think a problem is solved until we’ve solved it for everyone. Technology’s great promise is to give everyone the same power to achieve their goals. As long as there are barriers for some, there’s still work to be done.”

Google Workspace does its part to remove those barriers with a raft of features designed to keep businesses compliant with legal accessibility requirements and help them achieve their inclusivity goals.

Accessibility in Google Workspace

For the visually-impaired

Screen magnifiers

For those with limited vision, a screen magnifier can help them get a clearer picture of what’s on their screen by zooming in. 

To use this feature in Google Docs, go to the ‘Tools’ menu, select ‘Accessibility’, and check the box marked ‘Turn on screen magnifier support’. If the computer you’re working on has the magnifier enabled, you should see it pop up automatically. 

If not, you’ll have to adjust your computer settings. Assuming you’re working on a Mac, go to ‘System preferences’, then ‘Accessibility’, ‘Zoom’ and ‘Advanced’. From here, you’ll need to turn on ‘Zoom follows the keyboard focus’.

Screen magnifier support is also available in Sheets, Slides, and Drawings.

Screen readers

For those with more advanced vision loss, screen readers can be a lifeline. The text-to-speech technology translates the content on screen into speech so Workspace users have the ability to listen to their documents as well as reading them.

You will need screen reader software installed on your computer to use this function. Workspace easily integrates with the most common screen readers including ChromeVox, NVDA, JAWS, and VoiceOver.

Screen reader support can be turned on from the Accessibility menu in Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Drawings. Once enabled, you can edit documents, forms, spreadsheets, and presentations using the reader which will track your activity around the screen, giving feedback as you move the cursor and/or type.

If you’re in Sheets, for example, the screen reader will let you know each cell’s content and location - if cell D8 contains the text “Jane Brown”, you’ll hear “Jane Brown D8”.

And it’s not just Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Drawings that can give helpful spoken instruction. Google Calendar can also be adjusted to tell users the details of any event in their schedule. 

If you’re using a screen reader, just open up Google Calendar, type the shortcut (ALT + number, 1 - 7), and your computer will announce the title, date, and time of an event, as well as any additional notes such as guest lists.

Braille displays 

A braille display is a separate piece of hardware connected to your computer, that reads what’s on screen and translates it to braille - using a series of electronically-controlled pins to convey different characters. 

Braille displays can be used to read and edit files in Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Drawings. You’ll first need to turn on Screen reader support and Braille support in the ‘Accessibility’ menu, found under ‘Tools’. 

Once that’s switched on, you can use the cursor routing buttons on the braille display to move around the file and continue to use many of the usual keyboard shortcuts. 

Google further enhanced its braille display integrations last year with improvements to how users of screen readers and braille displays can interact with comments in documents and read text on a colored background. 

Adjusting your accessibility settings

There was yet another Workspace overhaul last summer when Google upgraded its accessibility features to give visually-impaired users more control over their accounts. 

Available to all Workspace customers, the update allows users to adjust their accessibility preferences separately across Docs, Slides, Sheets, and Drawings to personalize each app to their needs. 

To use, simply navigate to the ‘Tools’ menu of whatever app you’re using, scroll down to ‘Accessibility’, and adjust your settings from the pop-up window. Workspace will save your settings so you can work with whatever tool you need in each app.

Google apps for the hearing impaired

Communication in the workplace is often difficult and stressful for hearing-impaired employees. Google makes this easy by offering captions across a range of apps to make presentations and meetings more accessible.

If you’re delivering a presentation in Google Slides, for example, you can present those slides with captions alongside your speech so anyone in the audience with hearing issues can read along and won’t risk missing any details.

To use this feature:

  • Make sure your microphone is enabled and working correctly
  • Open up your presentation in Slides and click ‘Present’
  • Click ‘More options’ at the bottom left of the screen, then ‘Caption preferences’ and ‘Toggle captions’
  • Start talking - captions should automatically appear at the bottom of the screen. You can turn them off any time by clicking ‘CC’

Using captions in Google Meet is similarly easy and helps hearing-impaired staff who work remotely participate more fully in conferences and meetings.

You can turn on live captions in Google Meet by clicking the captions icon at the bottom of the screen - this is a small box labeled ‘CC’. Captions won’t be displayed on a recording of the meeting. If you want to keep an accessible record, it’s best to create a transcript. Provided there’s space, Google will store this transcript in the meeting host’s Drive for three months.

Depending on your account settings, only hosts and co-hosts can turn on transcripts. They have to start their meeting, record it, and then click ‘Activities’ in the bottom right of the screen. From there, navigate to ‘Transcripts’ and hit ‘Start Transcription’. Transcription will stop automatically as soon as you close the meeting and the host/co-hosts will get an email with a link to the document.

For those with mobility issues

Some employees don’t have the dexterity or range of motion to comfortably use a mouse or a keyboard. 

Google provides a wide range of keyboard shortcuts available in Chrome for those who have difficulty using a mouse or typing. There are also several helpful accessibility extensions that integrate with Chrome to improve user experience. These include Caret Browsing which lets users navigate websites using their keyboard’s arrow keys instead of relying on a mouse or touchpad.

Shortcuts are helpful when you want to move around the web quickly or perform certain tasks within files, but what if you have to type out a lengthy document or email?

You may want to try typing with your voice instead of your fingers with Google’s voice typing tool, available in Google Docs and Slides.

First, make sure your microphone is on and working. Then open up your document, click ‘Tools’ and ‘Voice typing’. A microphone box will appear on your screen, click it to start recording and the words should appear on the screen as you speak. To pause or cancel, just hit the microphone symbol again.

In Slides, you’ll open up your presentation, click ‘Tools’ and ‘Voice type speaker notes’ and go from there - clicking the microphone icon as above to start recording and typing.

Voice typing doesn’t just note your words, it can also respond to commands like ‘select paragraph’ or ‘italics’ so you can format your document without ever hitting the keys. You can even change font size, text color, highlight text, and create lists - almost everything you can do from the keyboard, you can do by speaking.

Inclusivity: Made possible with Google Workspace

Accessibility and inclusivity aren’t just topical buzzwords to write into your company culture. They’re the law. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, US workplaces must make “reasonable accommodations” so that an employee with a disability can “perform the essential functions of a job, or to enjoy benefits and privileges of employment equal to those enjoyed by employees without disabilities.”

Companies using Google Workspace already have the necessary tools on hand to help their disabled workers succeed. They just have to learn what’s available and how to use them. You may want to consider training your senior managers to get comfortable with all the accessibility features on offer in Workspace so they can readily help any struggling staff. 

And don’t forget to provide ongoing training to stay ahead of updates - Google is continually refining its product offerings in response to client needs and tech advances.

UpCurve Cloud consultants and technicians are certified by Google to help organizations adopt and implement the full range of Workspace applications. Our experts can assist in training, integration, and post-implementation operation so you can be sure you’ve got the right architecture in place to meet the needs of every staff member. Contact us today to get started!

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