Assistive technology

If you develop accessible websites it’s worth knowing how people will physically interact with them. Most of the software, peripherals and hardware described below are to assist people with visual and motor impairments.

Screen reader

A screen reader is perhaps the most well-known assistive technology. It’s software that literally reads the screen contents out to the user, with JAWS being the most popular (59%), followed Window-Eyes (11%) and VoiceOver (10%).

Screen magnifier

This is also software, usually bundled with the computer’s operating system, that enlarges portions of the original screen content. Windows OS has a program called Magnifier and holding down Ctrl and scrolling on the Mac will zoom the screen in and out.

Speech recognition

This software converts speech into text for those users that have difficulty using other forms of input, such as the keyboard. It can simply write out what is spoken which helps those with spelling difficulties or dyslexia. Operating systems and websites can be controlled by speaking the relevant command.

Refreshable Braille displays

Controlled by, and often used in conjunction with, screen reader software, a refreshable braille display is a piece of hardware that allows a blind person to read the contents of the screen in braille. They typically contain a row of 40-80 cells, each of 6 or 8 pins which are controlled electronically to create the braille output.

A refreshable braille display

Switch access

The general idea behind these types of devices is an on-off switch. This can be controlled by pressing a single button, using any part of the body, or using a sip and puff device controlled by the mouth.

A girl using the sip and puff device

Eye tracking

Some developers may have used eye-tracking software in usability tests to see what people look at when viewing their websites. It follows the user’s eye movement allowing them to control the computer without the use of their hands.

Keyboard

  • Sticky and filter keys

    Sticky keys can be turned on to help people who find it difficult to press two keys at the same time.

    Filter keys help users who tend to mis-hit or press keys without meaning to.

  • Key guard

    A piece of metal that fits over a keyboard with holes drilled out over the keys. Allows a user to identify the correct key and to lean on the keyboard without inadvertently pressing the keys.
    A key guard on a keyboard

  • Jumbo keyboard

    A keyboard with enlarged, colour-coded keys to help distinguish between numbers, letters and vowels – useful for people with learning difficulties.
    The jumbo keyboard

  • Mouth stick and head wand

    These are less technological devices that can help those with motor impairments to use the keyboard (and perhaps a mouse).
    A mouth stick
    A head wand

More information

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