Using Screen Readers in Google Classrooms
This post is related to a previous post Learning Management Systems in the Age of Pandemic. Our school decided to use Google Classrooms as the Learning Management System of choice due to the new paradigm of education in a pandemic. After considering three Learning management Systems and settling on Google Classroooms as the most expedient choice, this post will examine screen reader navigation options through Google Classrooms.
Several teachers in our school had set up Google classrooms previously, but many used them sporadically or not at all due to the fact that using standard screen readers (JAWS, NVDA etc.) in Google classrooms sometimes presented navigational difficulties for the BVI students. This was not an insurmountable problem but was more of a learning curve that, unfortunately, and as is so often the case when BVI students use technology designed for the sighted, detracted from the educational purpose of using Google Classrooms. In other words, the point is to educate students in a content area, not monopolize their time with dealing with and learning how to overcome computer navigational issues. Therefore, in my opinion, accessibility MUST be synonymous with simplicity. As proof, witness the iPhone that rendered previous mobile phones obsolete due to the intentional focus on simplicity and ease of use. As a a matter of fact, a whole field of study has evolved under this simple concept, Human-Computer Interaction (HCI).
Diane Brauner, the intrepid manager of this Paths to Technology blog, already has posted an examination of “Google Keyboard Shortcuts” that can be used to navigate Google classrooms. However, as mentioned above, many of our students had difficulty navigating Google classrooms due to the significant learning curve of memorizing these shortcuts and dealing with Google Classroom idiosyncracies. This was complicated by the fact that teachers did not know a great deal about the shortcuts and VI accessible navigations in Google Classroomsas well.
I tested JAWS and NVDA with Google classrooms in several browsers, (Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari on iOS using voiceover) and did not achieve flawless navigation with any, all presented different navigational issues. However, I did discover that the ChromeVox extension for the Google Chrome browser made Google Classrooms more accessible and navigable than all the other options.
To summarize, Google Chrome with the Chromevox extension is evidently the best option for navigating Google Classrooms. There is a disadvantage, unless a Chromebook is used, that another screen reader must be used to open a browser and then must be turned off when ChromeVox is activated to avoid having two screen readers speaking at once. A ChromeVox is the built in screen reader in Chromebooks, so this is not a problem with Chromebooks.