What is assistive technology? How does it work? And, more importantly, how can it help people access your website?
With between 750 million and one billion people living with some kind of vision, speech, hearing, mobility or cognitive impairment, assistive technology has never been more important than it is today. Indeed, we now live in an age where even fully-abled people leverage assistive technology in order to save time and increase efficiency when working and playing online.
You might actually be an assistive technology user and not even know it. Ever heard of the voice command programs Siri and Alexa? Well, if you’ve used either of these then congratulations, you have officially used assistive technology.
As more and more of our daily existence is now based online, it only makes sense that the necessary tools are put in place to meet the digital needs of all individuals, regardless of ability.
What is Assistive Technology?
Many will claim to have no real experience of AT, but it has in fact existed in one form or another long before the internet or even home computers. A set of eyeglasses, for example, or a hearing-aid, are both pieces of AT.
While we are accustomed to seeing people wearing eyeglasses and using hearing aids, and immediately understand the benefits they bring, the same level of awareness does not yet apply to digital AT.
Some common examples of digital AT include screen readers, voice control tools and eye tracking hardware.
Getting Familiar With Assistive Technology Is Important
When thinking about AT in the digital realm, it’s important to remember that there is no ‘‘right way’’ to access the internet. The vast majority of people will typically think of keyboards, trackpads, and touch screens when the subject of how to access a website arises, however we should always keep in mind that there are many other ways to do so.
Ensuring your website is either designed with AT users in mind, or is retrofitted to accommodate their needs, is a win-win situation for all parties. Both your organization and those who require the technology to interact with your site will see the benefits immediately.
Abilities Associated with Websites
In the not too distant past, little to no thought was given to making websites accessible for the elderly and those who live with a disability. Thankfully, today there is a much greater awareness of the gap that exists between people who can fully interact with websites and those who cannot.
We recently had the pleasure of hosting Hiram Kuykendall from MicroAssist, who in the following video dives into some of the abilities traditionally associated with using a website:
Filling the Ability Gap
In the following clip, Hiram addresses the importance of filing the ability gap:
A good example of a temporary mobility issue that most people can relate to is a wrist injury, which can have the immediate effect of making everyday digital tools, such as a mouse, completely inaccessible.
Different Types of AT Based on Disability
AT for Blindness/ Extreme Low Vision
Types of assistive technology commonly used by those with blindness/extreme low vision include iBill readers, braille keyboards and AIRA glasses.
The most well known type of digital AT by some distance, or the ‘‘rock star’’ of digital accessibility tools, if you will, are Screen Readers. Primarily used by people with vision impairments, they work by converting text, buttons, images and other screen elements into speech or braille.
In the next clip, Hiram gives a demonstration of a NVDA Screen Reader:
AT for Low Vision
In the next clip, Hiram explores AT options for people with low vision:
AT for Mobility
In response, a wide variety of AT’s have been developed that allow people with various types and levels of mobility issues to be active online.
In the next clip, Hiram discusses AT for those with mobility issues:
For some deeper insights into the hows and whys of AT, watch the full Intro To Assistive Technology Webinar!