Design & UX
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Assistive Technology: That Means Screen Readers, Right?

By Amit Diwan

If you’re a web developer/designer you probably come across the the acronym ‘AT’ or Assistive Technologies in your work. It’s tempting to think of ‘AT’ as just another name from screen readers – but this isn’t necessarily the case.

In fact, Assistive Technologies include a surprisingly wide range of products and software, outside of the conventional screenreader. So, today I thought we might expand the general idea of what qualifies as ‘AT’ and highlight some less commonly talked about examples in this category.

But first let’s define exactly what we mean by ‘Assistive Technology’.

Assistive Technology refers to a product, equipment or software which helps a user perform functional tasks which are difficult to do otherwise. The growing need for this technology arises due to the increasing numbers of people dealing with vision issues, hearing loss, cognitive disorders and other challenges. I have included listed some of these statistics under one of my articles on accessibility.

Refreshable Braille Display

This assistive technology is an electromagnetic device for displaying Braille characters developed by Louis Braille nearly 200 years ago.

Usage: Useful for Visually Impaired users to read text through round-tipped pins raised through holes in a flat surface.

Braille Reader

Screen Magnifiers

Microsoft Windows comes with a built-in application for Screen Magnifiers. This application has actually been a part of Windows since Windows 98, though there are certainly many third-party products that perform a similar task. The below figure shows a screen-magnifier operating on sitepoint.com

Usage: Useful for vison-impaired users, allowing them to easily increase the visible detail on any web page or application with their system.

Screen magnifiers

iOS VoiceOver (Touch Access)

Apple have invested a lot in their iOS accessibility features. VoiceOver is an interface built around a strong focus on the use of touch and gestures. This is certainly a variety of screen reader, albeit one centered around touch.

VoiceOver includes a novel ‘Rotor’ feature which allows users to ‘dial’ into different navigation paths through the page — for instance, by either headings, links or images. It includes built-in voices for 30 languages. VoiceOver can output to a bluetooth wireless braille display.

Usage: Users can navigate applications by using broad gestures. It includes an extensive suite of features such as text-input, braille displays, international voices etc.

IOS

Proloquo2Go

The Proloquo2Go site describes its product as:

“The voice for those who don’t speak.”

Proloquo2Go is a communication app that provides vocal abilities to those who can’t speak, by tapping buttons, word prediction, and verb and noun inflections. This is increasingly important as speech driven interfaces become more and more common place in our lives.

Proloquo2Go

ToggleKeys

We’ve all, at some stage, accidentally left the caps-lock on when typing. While it’s an irritation for most of us, it becomes a bigger issue for low-vision users, who may not detect the problem for much longer periods than other users. This is most obviously a huge issue in case-sensitive input fields.

ToggleKeys is an accessibility function designed by Microsoft for users who are either visually or cognitively impaired. The computer will produce sound cue alerts when either Caps-lock, Num-lock, and Scroll-lock keys are engaged.

Key Sound
On high-pitched sound
Off low-pitched sound

Pocket Reader – Printed Text for the Visually Impaired

This application converts printed texts into a digital format, before reading them back with Voiceovers. It’s compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

Pocket Reader can also convert its output to English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish making it just as useful for any traveller.

Usage: This products has been developed for visually impaired users to help them by converting printed text into digital – this text is then read aloud like a voiceover.

Pocket Reader

Headmaster Plus

Headmaster Plus

Headmaster Plus is head pointing control system for those who may have reduced dexterity in their hands, but have good head control. It is a technology that allows complete mouse control of a computer through head movements and even eye movements.

Headmaster Plus allows users to:

  • watch and follow the pointer
  • control the movement of head in small increments, and
  • understand basic computer navigation.

Reading Machines

Reading Machines use a camera or scanner with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software. They convert printed material into a more accessible electronic format, which can then be read aloud to the user.

Speech Recognition Software

Dragon Dictate is speech recognition software for Mac OS that enables you to dictate, edit, transcribe and control the computer through your voice.

Tasks that can be performed include:

  • Clicking on a link
  • Opening emails
  • Composing and replying to emails
  • Mixing and matching transcribing from different recording sources

Usage: It provides accurate speech recognition with customisable capabilities which is beneficial for users with cognitive difficulties, as well as users with limited manual dexterity. As an additional feature, the application can transcribe audio files.

Dragon Dictate

Reader and Writer Software

Ghotit Real Writer Pro is a reader and writer software being developed for users with dyslexia and dysgraphia.

Its features include:

  • Grammar Checker
  • Phonetic spell checkers
  • Word Prediction
  • Proofreader
  • Provides dictionaries of UK, US, Australia, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand.

Usage: Ghotit helps kids with dyslexia and dysgraphia by correcting spelling and literacy issues commonly associated with the condition.

Ghohit

Mind-Mapping Software

This one might come as a surprise.

Inspiration 9 is Mind-Mapping software that provides a platform for thinking which includes visual mapping, outlining, writing, making presentations.

A blank mind map is created by choosing from templates for different subjects, such as mathematics or science. The thinking and planning process begins, encouraging users to pull together different ideas and themes in no particular order or structure, before the software helps them organise disparate threads into a more cohesive work.

This mind map can then be transformed into a more conventional outline at the click of button.

Usage: While almost anyone can benefit from mind maps, they have been found to be particularly useful for dyslexic users.


Inspiration mind mapping

Do you know some other ones?

If you’ve used any other assistive technology beside screen-readers that you believe deserves a mention, please mention it in the comment section.

  • http://onsman.com/ ronsman

    Good stuff, Amit. Apart from making AT a little less daunting for web developers and designers (it’s just technology that helps people who need it), you’ve touched on two really important points. First, accessibility and using technology to improve it affects just about everybody. Wearing glasses does not make you a person with a disability, but you may well use AT to make your life a little easier. Second, there is a lot of AT being packed into devices and software these days that few people explore because they think ity’s only for “people with disabilities”. Glad to see you’re drawing some attention to AT on the web.

    • amit d

      Glad you liked it @ronsman:disqus ,
      Technology helps in making life easier for users by providing equal access. This also assists in providing computer/internet literacy for those who face difficulty in accessing them.
      Thanks to Alex for suggesting me an appropriate title. :)

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