Assistive Technologies

This post will be discussing the second topic of the UCEM Accessibility Awareness Course. You can view the first topic How we view disability

This topic, in the course,  gives a basic understanding of what is assistive technology to the learners who may not experience assistive technology or may have used them not identifying them as “assistive technologies”.

computer tablet and headset

Assistive technologies are technology tools to help people work around challenges they face due to a disability. These can be assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices for people with disabilities or impairments. In the broadest term, you could think of a wheelchair or a pair of reading glasses as assistive technology. 

In the digital world, screen reader software such as NVDA or JAWS can be used by people with visual impairment to understand the content of a page shown on a computer screen.  You can see how a Screen reader works with this demonstration video.

What about other assistive technologies?

Text to speech software helps users by reading out text. Keyboard and mouse alternatives such as head/mouth stick keyboards allow users to operate the keyboard using a stick held in their mouth. Speech to text software can convert your speech to typed text. These are only a few assistive technologies available today. Visit WebAIM: Introduction to Web Accessibility and follow the links to view other assistive technologies.

What we have to understand is that no technology will be able to make badly designed/created content accessible. In simple terms, for the assistive technologies to work, we need to create content that is accessible.

For example, if we screenshot a piece of text as an image and include this in a document as is, this image may not be recognised as text by screen reader software. The screen reader software will see an image but may not be able to read out the contents unless appropriate alternative text is provided for the image. So despite using an assistive technology, the user is unable to access the information if the creator of the document has not provided the alternative text. Therefore, to make content accessible, we need to think and create content that is accessible. Then the assistive technologies will be able to do their job to make content accessible to their users.T