Assistive Technology

Assistive technology is a generic term that describes any device, software, or equipment that helps people work around their challenges. This is a list of some of the more commonly used types of assistive technology.

Types of Assistive Technologies

Screen readers

Screen readers are a type of software used by people who are blind, visually impaired, or have mobility or learning disabilities to read the content of the computer screen. It enables access to a computer by identifying and interpreting what is being displayed on the screen using text to speech technology.

The two most common screen readers for Microsoft Windows are JAWS and NVDA. JAWS is the world’s most popular screen reader but does require either a one-time license or subscription fee. NVDA is a free open source option. For MacOS and iOS, VoiceOver is Apple’s built in screen reader included on all iPhones, iPads, and Macintosh computers. Android users have access TalkBack.

How do screen readers work?:

  • Screen readers read line-by-line from left to right and top-to-bottom. Users also have the option to navigate by headings, links, form fields, or images.
  • They navigate a document or website using the keyboard without a mouse. The ‘tab’ key allows the user to jump from link to link, the ‘enter’ key selects a link, and arrow keys are used to navigate a document or website.
  • Reading order is important for users with visual challenges. If the document is poorly organized or the content doesn’t use the correct headings, the user can become confused.

Screen magnification software

Screen magnification software allows users to control the size of text and or graphics on the screen. Unlike using a zoom feature, these applications allow the user to have the ability to see the enlarged text in relation to the rest of the screen. This is done by emulating a handheld magnifier over the screen.

Refreshable braille displays

Refreshable braille displays are tools that raise pins to form braille characters. The user places their fingers on the device to feel the changes in characters. 

Text-based web browser

A text-based web browser is a web browser that only renders the text of web pages and ignores any graphic content. 

Speech input software

Speech input software provides people with difficulty in typing an alternate way to type text and also control the computer. Users can give the system some limited commands to perform mouse actions. Users can tell the system to click a link or a button or use a menu item. Examples would be Dragon Naturally Speaking for Windows or Mac. Please note both Windows and Mac have some speech recognition utilities, but they cannot be used to browse the web.

Braille printers

Braille printers are printers that print raised braille on a page. 

Text readers

Text reading software is used by people with various forms of learning disabilities that affect their ability to read text. This software will read text with a synthesized voice and may have a highlighter to emphasize the word being spoken. These applications do not read things such as menus or types of elements – they only read the text.

Alternative input devices

Some users may not be able to use a mouse or keyboard to work on a computer. These people can use various forms of devices, such as:

  • Head pointers: A stick or object mounted directly on the user’s head that can be used to push keys on the keyboard. This device is used by individuals who have no use of their hands.
  • Motion tracking or eye tracking: This can include devices that watch a target or even the eyes of the user to interpret where the user wants to place the mouse pointer and moves it for the user.
  • Single switch entry devices: These kinds of devices can be used with other alternative input devices or by themselves. These are typically used with on-screen keyboards. The on-screen keyboard has a cursor move across the keys, and when the key the user wants is in focus, the user will click the switch. This can also work on a webpage: the cursor can move through the webpage, and if the user wants to click on a link or button when that link or button is in focus, the user can activate the switch.