Wednesday, June 23

Assistive Technology Part 2: Chrome Extensions and Apps for Inclusive Education

Guest Blogger Susan Botts is back! Check out her first post to read her bio.

In my previous blog, I discussed how the advent of Chromebooks is changing the face of education in Greater Clark for both students and teachers. As a teacher, I can certainly appreciate the power of technology as a learning tool. However, as I stated previously, technology is just that – a tool. And the power of any tool lies in the hands of its user. My husband has a power saw in our garage, but my use of it would no doubt produce frightening results. I’ll leave the use of power tools in his capable hands. Likewise, educational technology finds its real power in the hands of the educators who use it. The end result is a product of the way it is utilized. To get the best end result from the technology afforded us, we must harness its power for reducing learning barriers. We must recognize and utilize the multiple learning pathways it offers. We must infuse technology into our educational design.

In Part 1 of this blog, I described the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework as an instructional design in which all students have “access” to learning. UDL uses three principles that focus on eliminating barriers to learning. These three principles are:

  • Multiple means of representationto give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge
  • Multiple means of expressionto provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know
  • Multiple means of engagementto tap into learners’ interests, challenge them appropriately, and motivate them to learn

There are numerous free apps available in chrome to provide for the three UDL principles, so in part 2 of my blog I will focus on some of my favorite Chrome Apps and Extension that provide for multiple means of representation. I will also provide the links so you can view and download any tools you want to use for yourself and your students.

To install any of the free Chrome extensions and apps mentioned in the blog:

  1. Visit the store at
  2. Browse or search for the extension you’d like to install.
  3. On the extension’s details page, click the “Add to Chrome” button.

Chrome Extensions and Apps that provide for multiple means of representation

Chrome AT Toolbar – Free Accessibility Toolbar Extension that Offers Support for a Variety of Learning Needs

 This extension is a valuable set of tools to assist students struggling with various learning tasks. Some of the extensions on the toolbar are also available apart from it. The AItype Word Prediction plugin included in the toolbar is not available apart from the toolbar. This is the only free word prediction program for Chrome that I have found. All of the tools included in the toolbar are useful for students with literacy and vision needs.

This Toolbar provides all of the following supports:

Magnification – support for students with vision challenges 

Webpage Font – allows the user to choose a different type of font for the text and increase line spacing

Dictionary – gives support for reading and writing tasks. Provides definitions, synonyms, antonyms, and parts of speech       

Spell Checker – supports spelling needs to improve accessibility for writing tasks

AItype Word Prediction plugin – a web search word prediction program that offers student the ability to finish words or have new ones predicted. Supports students with reading disabilities and struggling writers.

Text To Speech – Highlight a portion of text before selecting the Text-to-Speech button to have only that text read. Options to choose a male or female voice.

Readability Extension Link – this extension is discussed in detail under reading comprehension supports

Background Color Changes – provides a color tint with a choice of colors – cream, pink, pale blue and pale greenover the entire webpage. Supports students with dyslexia or other visual/perceptual problem. According to research colored overlays “reduce the symptoms of visual stress and increase reading fluency in about 20% of school children.


Text to Speech Extensions for Chrome:

Text to speech apps meet a variety of needs for many learners. Text to speech apps can benefit ELL students, students with learning disabilities, visual impairments, cognitive disabilities, and reading difficulties.  In addition to supporting daily learning needs, text to speech apps can provide the needed testing accommodations of having questions read that many students require. These apps can also help students get accustomed to hearing a computer voice, similar to what is used on state testing.

  • Speak It: A Chrome extension, highlight text in a webpage or Google Form, right click and select “Speak it”!
  • Chrome Speak: A Chrome extension, works the same way as Speak It
  • Select and Speak (iSpeak): Chrome extension, will work in a Google doc
  • Read&Write for Google : Powerful toolbar that inserts into Google Docs and provides an array of supports for reading (Not everything on the tool bar is free, but the speech to text is free and works on Google Docs and Google Forms. You can set it to only read the parts you highlight, or just hit the stop button and highlight the next part.)


Reading Comprehension Supports:

  •  Readability: A service that allows the user to read web pages without much of the usual clutter. It removes ads and other page clutter. It also allows the user to change the width of the margins, the size of the text, and whether the text is white on black, or white on dark grey. It is possible to print, share and read pages later. This app will benefit students with ADD, SLD, and Visual Impairments.
  • TLDR (Too Long Didn’t Read) Shortens long articles and provides a summary of reading material without leaving the original page. Can select short, medium, or long summary length. One tip, you have to select the text on the page before you can do anything. After selecting the text, right click or control click to activate the tool.
  • Diigo: Extension with bookmark, highlight, and add sticky note features. This tool provides several colors for teachers or students to highlight key ideas, signal words, vocabulary words, etc., to make them stand out. This assistive tool supports students with comprehension or attentional issues.
  • Simple Highlighter: Highlights, annotates, translates, full or quick references (eg: word, wikipedia), speech, and offers text to speech capability and a webpage simplifier to reduce clutter. One tip, you have to select the text on the page before you can do anything. After selecting the text, right click or control click to activate the highlighter.
  •  Web Based Comprehension Supports:

Here are three sites which offer auto-summarizing tools to receive a condensed version of the text to help support students with varying types of reading and comprehension difficulties.


Writing Supports 


Math Supports:

  •  Calculator:  Simple Calculator that is easy to use.

Web Based Math Supports

  • Talking Calculator: A calculator that reads the numbers and symbols to students
  • Math Dictionary:  This awesome math tool is an animated, interactive online math dictionary for students which explains over 600 common mathematical terms and math words using simple language and visual support. This tool will support ELL students, students with cognitive and learning disabilities, and ALL learners! 

Web Based Math Supports for your Interactive Whiteboard – The following two sites offer virtual mathematical manipulatives such as base-ten blocks, color tiles, and fraction circles. The use of graphic aids and visuals combined with the interactivity feature makes these sites powerful tools for providing multiple means of representation for various math concepts.


Instructional Support Tools for Teachers

  • Print Friendly & PDF: This amazing tool lets you remove ads, navigation links and other extraneous content and then either create a PDF or print the cleaned up web page
    • -web links remain active
    • -can select text and then use a text to speech tool (e.g. Speak and Select or SpeakIt!) to listen to the text
  • PDF Escape: This is an amazing tool for modifying worksheets to support learning needs. The free version allows you to add text or free hand (use text or drawing tool to show correctly completed examples); white out text you don’t want; highlight keywords, signal words, vocabulary, etc.; and add sticky notes (with strategies, cues, steps for solving, etc.)
    • As an example of its capabilities, I used this tool to modify a fraction worksheet. I completed two different problems using the text and freehand tool to show correctly completed examples; I circled the problems I wanted my student to complete (even only for example); and I added a sticky note listing the steps for adding fractions. Then I was able to save a copy with my changes and download it to my hard drive. It took a little longer than making these changes by hand, but now I have it saved for future use.
    • PDF Escape Tutorial on YouTube – this tutorial provides a good overview for using this tool.


Today I shared a few of the free tools available through chrome and the web that  provide multiple means of representation to give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge.-

Parts 3 & 4 to Follow

In part 3 of this blog I will share free chrome and web tools that provide for multiple means of expression to give learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know.

Finally, in part 4, I will share free chrome and web tools that provide for multiple means of engagement to tap into learners’ interests, challenge them appropriately, and motivate them to learn.

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