Five Assistive Technologies You Should be Aware of
Mouth or Head Wands
These wands are either held between the teeth, or positioned in the middle of the forehead and held in place by a head band. They are used to activate keys on a keyboard and in rare cases a track-ball mouse.
People who use these devices will have a physical disability, for example quadriplegia (full body paralysis), or under developed limbs perhaps as a result of the Thalidomide drug.
Designing web pages with internal navigation (skip links), clean and simple content and minimal links, will assist people using mouth and head wands.
Speech Enabled Websites
Websites that are speech enabled allow people to listen to the content of the site being spoken aloud. The site owner pays a fee to a service provider for their site to be speech enabled. People can then access the spoken word through a link on the website or through a freely available application.
Speech enablement is not intended for people with severe visual impairments, but rather for people with reading difficulties such as Dyslexia, or people for whom the language of the site is not their own first language.
Designing a website with well formed HTML code, which conforms to the official programming language specification, will enable speech enablement to work with greater efficiency and accuracy.
These are software applications that work with the operating system to enlarge a selected portion of the screen. The magnified area works like a conventional magnifying glass, with much improved capability, and can be tracked around the screen to enable fluid reading of on-screen content.
People with mild to medium visual impairments will use screen magnification, including those with tunnel vision or Age Related Macular Degeneration.
Designing a site with clear indicators for different content areas, sufficient colour contrast between background and foreground colours and well structured pages will benefit people using screen magnification.
Voice Recognition Software
Software of this kind enables people to control their computers through voice commands, without the need for a keyboard or mouse. Voice recognition is a mainstream technology, but one which has assistive characteristics.
People using voice recognition software may have a physical impairment which prevents them using a keyboard or mouse, including people with Muscular Dystrophy and Parkinson’s Disease. In addition, people suffering temporary conditions such as Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) might use such technologies for the duration of their recuperation.
Designing a website with concise link text, which is independent of surrounding page content, and good structure of information will help people using voice recognition navigate pages more easily.
All browsers have in-built features which allow colours to be customised and font sized to be changed. Many have additional features that allow custom stylesheets to be used, portions of the page to be magnified, or pages to be self voiced. Whilst not a conventional assistive technology, they are undoubtedly the one application that almost everyone will use to improve their browsing experience.
People will make use of these features if they have mild eye conditions such as short or long sight, if they have colour blindness or more persistent sight conditions such as early onset Diabetic Retinopathy. People with motor control difficulties may enlarge text size to provide a larger clickable area on text links, people with Photo Sensitive Epilepsy may turn off images to prevent fast moving visual content from being displayed. The list is extensive and ongoing.
Designing pages to be fluid, so that the user can impose heir own choices on the way they view page is key to utilising browser functionality. Using CSS to control presentation, relative unit of measurement (such as %) to control font size and page widths and ensuring that information conveyed with graphics is also available when images are switched off will help people make the most of their browser.
Lonie is the head of accessibility at Nomensa.
Established in 2001, Nomensa is the digital agency specialising in perfecting online user experience. It combines usability, accessibility and strong web development skills to help public and private sector clients develop online strategies, be more inclusive and accountable.
Nomensa has a research based methodology that put people at the centre of its activities. Everything it does focuses on understanding the experience people have when using technology.