Assistive Technologies

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Assistive Technologies

Assistive Technology is any technology that helps to maintain or improve a person’s functional abilities. They range from low-tech, such as magnifying glasses or canes, to high-tech, such as an eye-tracking systems or motorized wheelchairs.

No matter what the type, the purpose is the same: to provide greater independence to the user.

Some examples of assistive technology that can aid people with disabilities on the web are:

High Contrast

Some people with low vision experience low contrast, and therefore benefit from high contrast text and graphics. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines recommend a color contrast of 4.5:1 to meet minimum color contrast.

You can use various color contrast checkers online to verify your color contrast ratio. Visit our Tools section on the Resources page for a list of free contrast analyzer tools available online

Keyboard Only

Many users with motor disabilities rely on a keyboard to navigate the web. Blind users also typically use a keyboard for navigation. Some people have tremors which don’t allow for fine muscle control. Others have little or no use of their hands. Some people simply do not have hands. Some users use modified keyboards the mimic the function of standard keyboards.

There are many ways that a webpage can introduce difficulties for users who rely on a keyboard for navigation. Keyboard accessibility is one of the most important aspects of web accessibility.

For developers and designers, it’s crucial to ensure that all web content can be accessed with the keyboard alone.

Audio Description

People with low vision can benefit from audio description which is used in video content to describe important visual details that cannot be understood from the main soundtrack alone.

Audio description is a separate audio track in movie or video, where a narrator describes the visual details on the screen, during scenes with no dialog or natural pauses.

Captions

Deaf or hard-of-hearing users can read text but require captions and transcripts to interpret audio and video content.

If you are a content creator, video and audio files should have synchronized captions.

Alternative Input Devices

Alternative input devices allow people with motor disabilities to interact with a computer without using a standard mouse or keyboard.

Some examples of Alternative Input devices that can be helpful to those with motor disabilities are:

  • One-handed keyboard: One-handed keyboards are specifically designed for individuals who use a single right or single left hand to type. These keyboards are ideal for individuals with limited dexterity.

 

  • Speech recognition: Speech recognition software is often used by people with limited to no mobility, but who can speak clearly. It allows a user to dictate to the computer, to control applications.

 

  • On-screen keyboard: On-screen keyboards allows a user with a pointing device – such as a mouse, head-stick, or eye gaze to point to and activate specific keys on an interface laid out like a keyboard.

On-screen keyboards also provide switch access to people who may not be able to move a pointing device, but who could push a button with their head, use their tongue, or sip or puff through a tube.

Special Fonts

Certain fonts will be more legible to many people with low vision or cognitive disabilities. For example, weighted fonts can be more readable to people with dyslexia.

Additionally, to ensure your copy is legible to those with low vision, it’s best to use relative font sizes (like ems and percentages) rather than pixel based fonts as this will ensure the characters stay sharp at high magnifications.

More Time

It’s important to provide enough time for users to read and use content. This is especially an issue when it comes to time-out meters for online forms.

Increase the time users have to complete tasks on your site, or provide them a means to request additional time prior to the session timing out.

Screen Magnifiers

Screen magnification software helps users with visual disabilities to increase the amount of detail they can see on a page by zooming in on selected areas.

Some people with low vison use adjustable text to enlarge the fonts on the screen.

To ensure your copy is legible to those with low vision, it’s best to use relative font sizes (like ems and percentages) rather than pixel based fonts as this will ensure the characters stay sharp at high magnifications.

Transcripts

Deaf or hard-of-hearing users can read text but require captions and transcripts to interpret audio and video content.

If you are a content creator, video and audio files (including podcasts) should be accompanied by transcripts.

Sign Language Interpretation

Sign Language Interpretation can be provided for people to supplement media containing both audio and video. Sign language interpretation may not be a practical for solution for many situations due to the cost, but it is very useful for live or televised events with large audiences where realtime captioning is unavailable.

Sign Language Interpretation also can be used in cases where audio and or video is being presented to a live audience where the content is not captioned.

Plain Language

Using plain language benefits everyone. Keeping sentences short and breaking content into smaller chunks improves comprehension amongst readers.

Predictability

Moving things around arbitrarily tends to disorient users. Putting elements such as navigation or the search box in the same place on every page makes it easier for everyone to locate and identify them.

Motion

Unexpected motion can be startling to some users. It’s best to avoid having videos automatically play when opening a page (or at least provide a control to pause it).

This can also apply to parallax backgrounds or fast scrolling motions, both of which have become rather popular on today’s web.

Screen Readers

Screen readers convert the text on the page into synthesized speech.

People who are blind rely on screen readers not only to read the text on a page, but also to describe the content sections and element types that make up the page, such as regions, links, button, forms, and headings. This allows users who are blind to create a mental map of type of content on the page, their location within that content, and the types of elements they can interact with.

Screen reader users can navigate around a page effeciently by listening to lists of headings, links and other structural elements the screen reader presents to them, provided the page structure is properly marked up.

Though screen readers are used primarily by people with vision disabilities, they also help people with cognitive and physical disabilities better understand the written content by hearing it read aloud.