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Chrome OS and Chrome Vox by Steve Nutt

This article contains notes of a presentation given by Steve Nutt at the BCAB Tech-A-Break event in 2017.



Chrome OS is an operating system based on a browser which in turn is derived from Linux. This presentation summary focuses on explaining features of ChromeVox, the screenreader which Google has developed for its range of Chromebooks. It also explains features of Chrome OS where necessary. It will list further resources that BCAB members can access should they wish to deepen their knowledge on the topics touched upon here.


Ideally, if one is purchasing a Chromebook, it needs to be able to access both Google extensions (programs that can be downloaded and installed locally such as Office,) and Android apps via the Play Store. Most of the key players now make Chromebooks: the presenter particularly likes the Asus range as different sections of the keyboard are clearly delineated by touch. Chromebooks come with a solid state disk and microSD card slot, and will boot up in around 20-30 seconds.

To turn speech on and off on a Chromebook, one needs to issue the alt-ctrl-Z command.

Note: for ease of issuing various combinations of keystrokes, the alt-ctrl keys are on both sides of the space bar.

A Braile display can be connected directly using a USB cable, and no setup procedure is required. It supports contracted Braille.

The key concepts that one needs to appreciate when using ChromeVox are the notions of layered keystrokes and sticky keys. On a Chromebook, the caps lock key is the modifier key. That is, one needs to hold it down and then add other keys to it. It is also referred to as the Search key or the ChromeVox key. There are single and multi-layered commands. Thus, Search-A speaks the address bar, while Search-A followed by D will announce the date and time. Many commands in ChromeVox are “layered,” that is, they consist of two parts, The jargon used by other manufacturers of screenreaders. There are similarities between ChromeVox and Windows. Hence alt-tab switches between programs, ctrl-T for a new tab, ctrl-W close tab etc.

To turn sticky keys on/off, one simply taps the caps lock key twice. When sticky key mode is enabled, one can navigate on the web as many are familiar with navigation such as H for headings, B for buttons etc.

Note: you must disable sticky key mode when editing.

Chrome OS uses the word “shelf” analogous to the desktop and “launcher” which is similar to the system tray.

Alt 1-9 enables the user to access the most frequently used desktop icons.

The presenter particularly liked the way the Chromebook would synchronise with Android phones and referred to the Google Keep extension.

To turn caps lock on and off, one uses the alt-Search command.

Essential commands for screenreader users

  • Turn ChromeVox on and off – alt plus control plus Z
  • Obtain a list of ChromeVox keyboard shortcuts – ChromeVox plus period
  • Open the context menu – ChromeVox plus M
  • Close window – control plus W
  • Open new tab – control plus T
  • Turn caps lock on and off – ChromeVox plus alt
  • Turn on and off sticky keys – press ChromeVox twice quickly
  • Increase pitch – ChromeVox plus right bracket
  • Decrease pitch – ChromeVox plus shift plus right bracket
  • Increase speed – ChromeVox plus left bracket
  • Decrease speed – ChromeVox plus shift plus left bracket
  • Open search tutorial – ChromeVox plus O then T
  • Turn off Learn Mode – control plus W
  • Open update notes – ChromeVox plus N then O
  • Hear the names of the keys on your keyboard (Learn Mode) – ChromeVox plus K then O
  • Go to System Tray – control plus forward key (second key from left on very top row)

Magnification features

Once you have signed in (bottom righthand corner,) go to your account picture and click on Settings.

Scroll down to Advanced Settings, and click on Accessibility.

  • You can show large mouse cursor (magnifies cursor up to three times).

You can select a high contrast mode, (this reverses polarity and will display white text on a black background).

Enable screen magnifier – this increases items on the screen by a factor of two, with an option to keep the magnifier on the centre of the screen.


Chromebooks are worthy of consideration by blind and visually impaired users. Examples include the speed with which they boot up, their affordability, ease of connecting a Braille display, and the ease with which they synchronise to Android-based phones. ChromeVox is less comprehensive than some screenreaders, such as JAWS For Windows, but it can meet the basic needs of most users.

Useful resources

For information about ChromeVox:

For Information on Chromebooks:

Introduction to ChromeVox Next:

(There are plenty more videos on ChromeVox on that YouTube link).

For purchasing and obtaining support on Chromebooks and ChromeVox, contact Computer Room Services, 77 Exeter Close, Stevenage, Hertfordshire SG1 4PW.

Tel: +44(0)1438-742286

Mob: +44(0)7956-334938

Fax: +44(0)1438-759589