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Five Assistive Technologies You Should Be Aware Of

Written by Léonie Watson, Nomensa Head of Accessibility

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
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.

Screen Magnifiers

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.

The Browser

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 their 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.

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