Computers and Internet may lead the way towards a more independent life for many people living with disabilities. In order for it all to work support from assistive technology from time to time is needed. There are a lot of possibilities to adapt computers so that people with disabilities can use them at hand.
The purpose of assistive technology is to compensate for the end users disabilities, sometimes by enhancing the form, dyslectics may need the content to be highlighted, visually impaired may need it magnified. Sometimes by transforming one method of presentation to another, such as transforming text to speech or text to braille.
When using computers there are a lot of different disabilities that need to be compensated for and as a result of that there is a wide variety of assistive technology solutions. In this forum we will only scratch the surface but if you are interested in getting a closer look at the wide variety of aids available you are welcome to take our course...
Alternate mice solutions
Most users navigate using a mouse and most interfaces are designed with mouse navigation as a first priority. People, who suffer from rheumatism, different paralysis impairments, repetitive strain injury and so on, however may experience difficulty using a mouse. For this group of users there are a lot of different solutions. There are headmice, for people who can’t move or use their arms at all. There are roll-mice, joysticks and mice with different button solutions for people who just basically have problems handling an ordinary mouse.
Alternate Keyboard solutions
There are users who, regardless of assistive technology, can’t use a mouse at all. They depend on keyboards. Anything that can be done with a mouse can be done with a keyboard as long as programs, applications, services and websites are constructed according to standard.
For many users however a keyboard in itself may be hard to use. The keys may be hard to hit without hitting several others at the same time, the different buttons and functions may be difficult to understand for persons with cognitive disabilities, for people with moving disabilities the buttons of a keyboard may be difficult to reach. As a result of this there are many different solutions designed to aid users when using their keyboards.
Many people with moving disabilities use a software based keyboard instead of a common one. They appear on screen where the users then click the keys desired. For people with difficulty accessing large surfaces there are smaller keyboards and for people with learning disabilities there are keyboards with programmable keys.
Please note that even if the user can use a computer without the use of a mouse there is always need for some kind of keyboard to use it effectively.
A screen reader’s task is to transform what is displayed graphically to other forms of expression such as speech or braille. Dyslectics may have the need for text to be presented in alternate forms of visual presentation. Blind or visually impaired on the other hand may in addition to that also need structure presented in an alternative manner. How different screen readers work depend on the disability.
Speech syntheses are often used in combination with a screen reader. It is the synthesis that transforms text to speech. The screen reader assists the user in finding the text and sending it to the synthesis while the synthesis itself converts text to speech.
A braille display is a tactile alphabet that makes it possible to “feel” the letters thus become readable. For people who are bot deaf and blind braille is the only way of accessing information via computer, but many who are severally visually impaired use braille as a complement to speech during computer use. A braille display functions basically as a speech synthesis but instead of providing information with sound it does so with braille.
By using magnifying software the visually impaired can magnify parts of or entire screens. Most browsers today have the ability to enlarge text and alter background colors. Some of them let you enlarge the page with as much as 1000 %. One major disadvantage with magnifying software is that it is easy to lose ones general view.
Help to read and write
For users with difficulty to read and write there are a lot of different assistive technologies. In addition to screen readers and speech synthesis, there is software that transforms speech to text, spellchecks, synonym suggestions and software that either present text magnified or in fonts and colors preferable to the user. For people with difficulty reading on screen there is a reading software that works on the internet; BrowseAloud.