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Concerns About Chromebooks for Blind/Low Vision Students

Updated May 28, 2024.

Scenario: District uses Chromebooks for all students and does not want to provide a Windows OS laptop for your blind/low vision student.


The U.S. Department of Education has issued regulatory guidance regarding the civil rights of students with disabilities under Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. These rights are in addition to special education rights (under IDEA), and these rights remain with a student throughout the school years and into and through adulthood.

Both Section 504 and the ADA require that school-provided technology must enable disabled students (including those who are blind or have low vision) to perform tasks in an equally effective manner in comparison to their non-disabled peers. In other words, when a school provides technology to non-disabled students, disabled students must either (1) be able to use that technology as efficiently and as effectively as non-disabled students can or (2) receive comparably effective and efficient alternate technology.

For this reason, if a Chromebook does not allow a disabled student to perform ALL tasks in an equally effective manner in comparison to their sighted peers, the district must provide a Windows OS laptop for students with blindness/low vision, even in cases where the district typically provides Chromebooks to non-disabled students.

Strategies To Support Chromebook Alternatives For Blind/Low Vision Students

How can we ensure that our students have the robust technology they need and deserve? The key is documenting the need for a Windows OS laptop and getting that into the student’s IEP. Here are some points that may help to make the case for Windows OS:

Chromebooks do not support braille embossers.

Thus, while non-disabled students can print documents using a Chromebook, blind/low vision students cannot use a Chromebook to independently produce hard copy braille. This alone renders the Chromebook inaccessible according to U.S. Department of Education guidance and is reason enough to require the district to provide the student a Windows OS laptop.

Most screen reader users use a Windows OS-based screen reader.

WebAIM, an independent organization dedicated to web accessibility, conducts regular surveys of screen reader users. WebAim’s most recent survey, published in February 2024, asked several questions, including: “Which of the following is your primary desktop/laptop screen reader?” The responses received are as follows:

  • JAWS: 40.5% of respondents (619)
  • NVDA: 37.7% of respondents (577)
  • VoiceOver: 9.7% of respondents (148)
  • Dolphin SuperNova: 3.7% of respondents (57)
  • ZoomText/Fusion: 2.7% of respondents (41)
  • Orca: 2.4% of respondents (36)
  • Narrator: 0.7% of respondents (10)
  • Other: 2.7% of respondents (41)

More than ninety percent (90%) of the respondents use Windows OS screen reading software is their primary tool. In fact, use of ChromeVox as a primary screen reader is so low that it dipped into the “Other” category in this latest survey. (In the 2021 WebAIM Survey, five respondents cited ChromeVox as their primary screen reader.

This indicates that experienced users of screen reading software do not choose to use ChromeVox, even though it is available for use (for free) on Windows OS computers. This data indicates that users believe that ChromeVox is insufficient as a primary screen reader and that efficiency and effectiveness for blind computer users requires a screen reader that can run on a Windows OS laptop.

Chromebooks often have low levels of technological robustness.

4 GB of RAM is standard for Chromebooks, but this low level of RAM will likely cause problems for blind/low vision students trying to use accessibility tools.

The paucity of hard drive storage on Chromebooks tends to force users to use cloud storage. This necessarily limits users’ access to times and places where they have internet connections.

Chromebooks require an internet connection for full use

In order to fully utilize a Chromebook, it must be connected to the internet. Of course, not all students have consistent and reliable internet connections. Also, while Chromebooks can be used to some extent offline, the user may have to “set up” the Chromebook for offline use.

Blind/low vision students may need to rely more on apps (like Microsoft Office) than their non-disabled peers do. The Microsoft Suite of software tends to be more accessible and more stable than its Google Suite counterpart. Thus, they may be at a distinct disadvantage with regard to Chromebook usability in comparison with their non-disabled peers.

Chromebooks do not allow software to be installed, so students often need to require third-party apps to provide accessibility tools that are built into Windows OS screen reading software, like JAWS

First, because students need to install and access additional apps in order to use Chromebooks, this places additional initial and ongoing demands on our students. These additional demands mean that Chromebooks cannot be used in an equally effective manner in comparison to non-disabled peers.

Next, educators throughout the country know that it can be difficult to get new functionality on school-provided technology, and this can include Chromebook apps. While educators are usually the ones jumping through these bureaucratic hoops, the additional time and trouble can rob our students of the functionality and access they need and deserve.


In order to access inaccessible files, students often need to use optical character recognition software (OCR).

Unlike JAWS, ChromeVox does not have a built-in OCR tool. While there are OCR tools available online, many require the individual to be online, and they are not necessarily accessible. Additionally, requiring blind/low vision to jump through additional hoops that would be unnecessary if using JAWS on a Windows OS laptop.

Additionally, the widely used Kurzweil 1000 software cannot be used on a Chromebook.

Braille translation software

Braille translation software (such as BrailleBlaster or Duxbury) cannot be installed, and this limits the student in the development of needed skills.

Accessible technology-specific software

Software required by accessible tools cannot be installed on a Chromebook. An important example is LoggerPro, a data collection and analysis software often used in conjunction with the Talking LabQuest tool.

Many valuable (and accessible) games available from the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) are not operable on Chromebooks. These include:

  • BrailleBlaster™ Braille Translation Software
  • Armadillo Army, maze game designed especially for low vision and blind users
  • Book Wizard Producer, DAISY Digital Talking Book creation software
  • Book Wizard Reader, DAISY Digital Talking Book reading software
  • Learn Keys, keyboard exploration and learning program
  • Math Flash, multi-media math flash card drill and test program
  • Talking Typer®, typing tutor program
  • Talking Word Puzzles, accessible word puzzle program
  • Termite Torpedo, electronic arcade game
  • Toodle Tiles, play mahjong with large, high contrast tiles

Chromebooks do not support Microsoft Office offline.

Microsoft Office provides robust, accessible features as well as embedded accessibility-checking tools; Chrome software does not.

Microsoft Office is available online, but the student will not have access to Office products when not connected to the internet.

If Chromebooks Are Great, Are the School’s Educators and Administrators Limited to Chromebooks?

While Chromebooks are proliferating in school’s, employers are not jumping on the bandwagon. Despite the cost savings associated with Chromebooks, most employers are sticking with Windows OS laptops for their non-disabled employees.

In order to properly prepare our students for employment, we must provide them instruction in and experience with the robust tools they will be using and not limit them to inexpensive tools that will not provide them the functionality they need.

Contact the Bridges Helpdesk for More Information

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

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