By Godfrey Wong (Student Occupational Therapist) and Tim Park (Student Occupational Therapist)
Users may require assistive technology to access content, a computer, or a device - this section provides information on the most common forms of assistive technologies.
Screen readers are software applications that present visual content (eg. text, images, buttons, menus in websites and applications) as synthesized speech, using text-to-speech to allow users to listen to the content rather than visually perceive it. With this functionality, users are able to navigate the contents of their screen through screen reader commands and shortcuts. This software can be helpful for people with visual impairments, people who have difficulty reading, or people with a cognitive impairment.
Examples of screen readers
More Information on Screen Readers
Screen magnifiers are software applications that can enlarge contents on a computer screen to be more visually accessible. Users can choose to magnify portions or the entirety of the screen as well as adjust the scale (%) of magnification. As content is enlarged, users have the ability to move the cursor or use the keyboard to pan around the screen content. Some screen magnifiers provide other helpful features such as colour inversion and cursor customization.
Examples of screen readers
More Information on Screen Magnifiers
Refreshable Braille Display
Refreshable braille displays are physical electronic devices that connect to a computer in the same manner keyboards do. Information on the computer screen is presented as braille by electronically raising and lowering different combination of pins within the braille cells. These devices allow users to check spacing, and spelling.
More Information on Refreshable Braille Displays
Demonstration of Screen Reader, Screen Magnifier, and Refreshable Braille Display
Speech recognition or voice recognition programs
Speech/Voice recognition programs allow the user to control their computer using their voice. By using verbal commands, users are able complete actions such as open programs, navigate websites, and write text.
Examples of speech/voice recognition programs
More Information on Speech Recognition
Demonstration of Speech Recognition
Switch Access Controls
Switch access controls allow users to input commands through the use of one or multiple switches. There are various types of switches but they work under the same principles. Switch can be anything from a button or a pedal, to a sip and puff mechanism (controlled through breath). The switch is often paired with a scanning system that scans through the different selectable components on the screen
More Information on Switch Access Controls
Demonstration of Switch Access Controls
Eye or head-tracking
The user can utilize their eye or head movements to navigate their computer screen and select items on the screen like a mouse. The is done by tracking the movement of the eyes and head through means of different technologies, such as webcams, infrared waves, and reflective dots.
More Information on Alternative Mouse Systems
Demonstration of Eye-tracking
Is Assistive Technology Enough?
It is important to know that assistive technology inherently does not make things accessible. The following video of a screen reader user illustrates this point: Accessible vs. Inaccessible: Can You Hear the Difference. Assistive technology can help with accessibility but it can only go so far as the system/design allows for it. Therefore the emphasis needs to be placed on designing systems and content that allows assistive technology to function properly.