Technology has the potential to level the playing field for students with disabilities, English language learners and students who struggle to access core content. However, assistive technology can also be so overwhelming and costly, and feel impossible to integrate into the curriculum.

The goal of assistive technology is to remove barriers to learning and promote greater independence by increasing the opportunity for persons with disabilities to perform all necessary tasks. Google has been quite busy making education accessible to all — in fact my favorite tech accessibility features: apps, tools and extensions are all made possible with Google.

These features can be accessed for free by downloading the Chrome browser (which is free) or using a Google Drive account (Gmail is free, but be sure to check your school division's technology policy on personal Gmail usage).

The misconception that students need a Chromebook or a Google Apps For Education (GAFE) license is just that: a misconception. While Chromebooks are amazing and the resources offered GAFE are advantageous, they are not necessary to ensure students have access to content and assistive technology support. Students can download and use the Chrome browser on any laptop.

Google Drive tools and add-ons

Voice Recorder: A free tool housed in a Google Doc that allows students to dictate the text of a document, then save the text to Google Drive. Similar to voice and speech recognition. Benefits: Great for brainstorming ideas for prewriting, supports fluency, self-monitoring and error analysis.

Google Translate: A free tool that instantly translates texts in your Google docs into various languages. Benefits: Ideal for supporting English language learners in building their academic vocabulary and recognizing common cognates within the English language.

Highlighting Tool: An add-on that has a variety of colors that can be used to organize an essay, categorize ideas and emphasize important facts. Benefits: Teachers and students can use the highlighting tools to identify the thesis, claim, supporting details, conclusion and other components.

TexthelpStudy Skills: An add-on that supports modeling effective reading strategies such as coding and marking a text for comprehension. Similar to the "Highlight Tool" add-on. Benefits: The various colors allow the user to select and group various highlighting colors (such as claim, evidence, etc.) to support comprehension and specific literacy skills.

Kaizena Mini: An add-on that allows the user to verbalize thoughts and feedback rather than typing the comments. Benefits: With Kaizena, users can highlight and speak comments instead of typing. Teachers can track skills so students know what to improve.

For directions on how to add an "add-on" to Google Docs, Sheets and/or Forms, follow the instructions at Google's Support Center.

Google Chrome browser apps and extensions

What is an app? Web apps are basically websites. The apps run within the Chrome browser, and they work like a shortcut or quick link to websites.

Extensions are programs that can modify and enhance the functionality of the Chrome browser. By using extensions, you can customize Google Chrome with features that you like and make content more accessible. Some of my favorites:

Text to Speech: Read and Write for Google Chrome. A free extension that allows students to hear words, passages or whole documents read aloud with dual-color highlighting. A paid version includes picture dictionary, word prediction tools, vocabulary list and builder.

Readability: Speak It! or Chrome Speak. Speak It! provides students the opportunity to read selected text on web pages or PDFs that are opened in Chrome. Students can adjust speaking rate and voice.

Readability: OpenDyslexic. This extension increases readability for dyslexic readers by overriding fonts on webpages using OpenDyslexic font and reformats pages to be more readable.

Reading Comprehension: SentiSum or TextTeaser. SentiSum allows users to get a summarized version of the content. SentiSum provides five to six important details from the text selected. Similar to SummarizeThis and TextTeaser.

Reading Comprehension: Google Dictionary. Double-click on any word in the browser to get a pop-up with a definitions and audible pronunciation.

Reading Comprehension: DocHub App. This app not only allows students to complete PDF fillables, but it also lets them highlight and make notes within PDFs. Students can interact with PDF reading excerpts from Readworks, Read, Write, Think and Newsela using the DocHub app.

For directions on how to add an app or extension, follow the instructions at the Chrome Web Store's Help.

There are so many apps and extensions that can support our learners. I named a few apps and extensions, but I also love Grammarly, Beeline and Craftytext. I recommend browsing the web store, reading the reviews for each app and exploring their functionality within the browser.

Be sure to download an extension "extensity," to help organize your extensions and apps. And remember there is always an "assistive tech tool" for everything.