Google Tools for Special Needs

by - Eric Curts

Table of Contents:


General websiteschrome-wheelchair.png

Chrome Web Apps and Extensions

Text to speech

Speech to text


Reading comprehension



Classroom management


Chrome features

Gmail features

YouTube features

Android features

Add-ons for Google Documents


Watch the video training for this content - Google Tools for Special Needs - 


There are many tools and features for the Google suite of products that provide accessibility or other accommodations for users with special needs. Some of these tools and features are created by Google and built right into their products. Others are created by third-parties and available as web apps, extensions, and such.

The following information will provide a list of many useful Google-related tools and features for users with special needs. This is a rapidly evolving area, so this list will be updated periodically to reflect the most current, most valuable resources. If you know of a tool or feature that should be added to this list please send the information to

General websites

Before listing individual tools and resources, below is a list of several general websites that provide lots of information about Google-related accessibility, accommodation, tools, and resources.


Chrome Web Apps and Extensions

In addition to the features Google has built into their products, many developers have created Chrome web apps and Chrome extensions that bring extra functionality to Chrome for accessibility and accommodations.

Below is a list of many useful Chrome web apps and extensions for special needs grouped by topic. Some tools fit into more than one topic, but each is only listed once.

Text to speech

  • Read&Write for Google - link
    The "Swiss Army Knife" of extensions with tools including word prediction, dictionary, picture dictionary, text to speech, screenshot reader, speech maker, screen mask, translator, highlighters, voice note, and more. Works on webpages, PDFs, Google Docs, and Google Slides.
    Note: There is a paid version with all the tools and a free version with a subset of the tools. Educators can get the paid version for a year at no cost by filling out the form at:

  • SpeakIt! - link
    Text to speech tool that reads any selected text on web pages or PDF’s that are opened in Chrome. Options that can be adjusted include speaking rate and choice of voice.

  • Announcify - link
    This is another text to speech tool that not only reads a webpage, but also removes distracting elements from the site. The only drawback is the inability to select specific text to read, as the entire page is read aloud.

Speech to text

  • Voice Recognition - link
    Voice recognition app that allows the user to dictate the text of a document, then save the text to Google Drive or send as an email.

  • SpeechPad - link
    Voice recognition app that allows the user to dictate the text of a document, then copy and paste the text to another application as needed

  • VoiceNote - link
    Voice recognition app that allows the user to dictate the text of a document, then copy and paste the text to another application as needed


  • Readability - link
    Creates a more readable version of a web page by removing all the ads, comments, and other extra distracting items. The user can also adjust the font size and color scheme of the new text.

  • OpenDyslexic - link
    This extension overrides all fonts on webpages with the OpenDyslexic font, and formats pages to be more easily readable.

  • BeeLine Reader - link
    Creates a more readable version of a web page by removing all the ads, comments, and other extra distracting items. Then applies a color gradient to the page text guide your eye from one line to the next.

  • High Contrast - link
    This tool can make webpages easier to read by changing the colors to increase contrast, invert the colors, or switch to grayscale.

  • ATbar - link
    Change the colors and font size for a webpage, have text read aloud, use colored overlays, remove distracting elements from the page, and more

  • MagicScroll Web Reader - link
    Turn web pages into a flippable e-book with easy clickable or keyboard control, as well as control over font size and page color as well.
  • Readline - link
    Although designed as a speed reading tool, you can adjust the speed to the lowest setting and use this extension to easily read text one word at a time.

  • Visor- link
    This screen overlay tool darkens out the page except for a horizontal band you can move up and down as you read, helping the student focus.

  • Color Enhancer - link
    For people who are partially color-blind, this tool can help adjust and improve webpage colors.

Reading comprehension

  • SummarizeThis - link
    Copy and paste any text into the app to get a summarized version of the most important information.
  • sentiSum - link
    Get a summarized version of any webpage.
  • Google Dictionary - link
    Double-click any word on a web page to get a pop-up with the definition and audible pronunciation.

  • Newsela - link
    Current event articles covering many subjects, each written at five different Lexile levels so all students can read the same material at an appropriate level.


  • Click-free Browsing - link
    Adds navigation icons to a webpage that can be activated by simply hovering over them, rather than needing to click. Commands include scrolling, backward and forward in page history, opening a link, and more.

  • Vimium - link - YouTube video
    Provides keyboard shortcuts for navigation and control for someone with difficulty using a mouse.

  • CrxMouse - link
    Use mouse gestures to navigate including forward, backward, scrolling, refreshing, switching tabs, and more. The user can even program their own custom mouse gestures to open programs and perform other tasks.

  • Caret Browsing - link
    This extension gives you a movable cursor in any web page, allowing you to move through the text with your arrows keys and select text with the keyboard.


  • Simple Blocker - link
    This tool helps students to stay focused on their work by blocking distracting websites. The user can choose the sites to block, how long to block them, and optional password protection.

  • uBlock Origin - link
    A simple but powerful ad-blocking extension to help remove distracting ads from websites, making pages less cluttered and easier to read.

  • Move It - link
    For students who need a break, this extension can be set to periodically have them stop working and do something physical for a moment.

Classroom management

  • ClassDojo - link
    Behavior management tool to build positive learning habits and behaviors.

  • Class Charts - link
    Seating chart tool with behavior and data tracking.


  • Picto4Me - link
    Allows you to create, edit, download, and play pictographic communication boards

Chrome features

The Chrome web browser has many accessibility feature built in by default. Below is a list of some of the most common.

Zoom - User can adjust the zoom level of the browser by pressing:

  • Ctrl and + to zoom in
  • Ctrl and - to zoom out
  • Ctrl and 0 (zero) to return to the original zoom level

Font face and size - Users can set the default font face and default font size for all websites.

  1. Click the settings button in the top right corner of Chrome.
  2. Choose Settings from the drop down menu.
  3. Scroll down and click Show advanced settings.
  4. Now scroll down to the Web content section and click the Customize fonts button.
  5. A window will now open where you can adjust your default font settings.


Keyboard shortcuts - Many common tasks in Chrome can be accomplished with keyboard. Some common keyboard shortcuts are listed below.

  • Shift+Alt+T = Main Toolbar (contains Back, Forward, Reload, etc)
  • Shift+Alt+B = Bookmarks Toolbar
  • Ctrl+1 through Ctrl+8 = switches to the tab at the specified position number on the tab strip.
  • Ctrl+9 = switches to the last tab.
  • Ctrl+Shift+Tab or Ctrl+PgUp = switches to the previous tab.
  • Ctrl+Tab or Ctrl+PgDown = switches to the next tab.
  • Ctrl+W or Ctrl+F4 = closes the current tab.

A full list of Chrome keyboard shortcuts can be found at:

Gmail features

Keyboard shortcuts -  Many common tasks in Gmail can be accomplished with keyboard. First though you have to turn on the feature.

  1. In Gmail click the gear icon.
  2. Next then Settings.
  3. Scroll down to Keyboard Shortcuts
  4. Click button turn them on or off.

Some common keyboard shortcuts are listed below.

c = Compose

n = Next message

p = Previous message

u = Return to conversation list

! = Report spam

r = Reply

a = Reply all

f = Forward

/ = Search

k = Move to newer conversation

j = Move to older conversation

e = Archive

s =  Star a message or conversation

v = Move to

( = Archive and previous

) = Archive and next

z = Undo

# = Delete

l = Label

. = Show more actions

? = Show keyboard shortcuts help

o or Enter = Open conversation

Ctrl+s = Save draft

Shift+i = Mark as read

Shift+u = Mark as unread

A full list of Gmail keyboard shortcuts can be found at:

YouTube features

Many YouTube videos include an option for closed captions. Videos with captions available will have a “CC” icon in the video summary in search results. You can also search specifically for videos with captions as follows:

  1. Enter your keywords in the YouTube search bar.
  2. Click the Filters button.
  3. Click CC (closed caption).

When playing a video that has captions, you can turn on captioning by clicking the “CC” icon in the bottom right corner of the video window.


Android features

There are many accessibility features built into Android for your Google tablet or phone. Below are a few quick features that can be of particular use.

Dictation - Android has a very powerful voice to text translation feature. If you open a Google Document on your Android device, you can use the dictation feature to speak your content and let Google turn it into text in your Document.

Text to Speech - With the Google Play Books app for Android, you can use the Read Aloud feature to have books and PDF’s spoken. This includes books from the Play store as well as PDF’s you upload yourself.


Add-ons for Google Documents

Add-ons are third-party tools that can be installed to extend the features of Google Documents. Add-ons provide a wide range of new functions including tools for special needs.

To learn more about installing add-ons see this help guide or this video tutorial.

  • Pupil Pref - link
    An add-on that makes it easy to change the background color of a Google Doc to reduce visual stress

  • Speech Recognition - link
    Speech to text tool to use speech recognition to write your Google Docs documents.

Other resources

  • My training video for “Google Tools for Special Needs” - 
  • Bring me to your organization: My training and consulting services - on-site or online - link
  • All of my free training materials, help guides, presentations, videos, and more - link

© 2014-2016 - Eric Curts - - - - @ericcurts

This document is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 3.0 United States license.  For more information about this license see (In short, you can copy, distribute, and adapt this work as long as you give proper attribution and do not charge for it.)

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