What is assistive technology? What are assistive technologies and website accessibility tools? What is website accessibility software used for and how does it help individuals with disabilities online?
Well, first things first. What is assistive technology? Put simply, assistive technology refers to any piece of equipment or software that enhances learning, working, and daily living for persons with disabilities.
Assistive technologies are nothing new. A pair or reading glasses, for example, is a kind of assistive technology. Web accessibility tools perform a similar function to a pair of eyeglasses, in that both the glasses and the accessibility tool function to allow a person with disabilities to perceive and interact with the external world. From this perspective, a wheelchair and an accessibility tool are fundamentally aiming for the same outcome - which is to help those with disabilities to have access to the things in life that others take for granted.
Website accessibility software can be leveraged by those with disabilities to help them be active online. More well known accessibility software examples include screen readers and screen magnifiers, which allow those with blindness and low vision to engage with online content. These accessibility software examples are merely the tip of the iceberg, however, in terms of the technology that now exists to help those with disabilities navigate the web.If you are not a person with a disability, then you probably take it for granted that you can easily control a mouse, type on a keyboard, or click to select options when browsing online without the need for assistive technology. Now imagine doing these same online tasks without being able to see, or without being able to move your hands. Suddenly, the web is looking like a completely different place – one which is full of hurdles and limited access. Website accessibility tools exist to tackle these hurdles and break down the barriers that still exist for disabled users.
Web accessibility for people with disabilities has been a concern since the birth of the web, and the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) was formed in 1997 by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to establish standards for web accessibility. However, only now is web accessibility really getting any major attention. Most countries still don’t have any laws about web accessibility, which means that people with disabilities often cannot access and use websites, including much-needed services on public sector websites such as for healthcare.
If you want to improve website accessibility on your site, you can start by learning about the WAI guidelines and using website accessibility tools to check your website’s accessibility. However, this can only take you so far. To really improve web accessibility, you need to understand how people with disabilities use the web using assistive technologies and accessibility software. Only then will you be able to make the meaningful changes which allow all people, including those reliant on assistive technologies and web accessibility tools, equal access to your website.
Web Access Tools for the Visually Impaired
- JAWS (Job Access with Speech)
Assistive Technology Tool#2 Braille Keyboards: A Braille keyboard is a piece of assistive technology that is very different from a standard QWERTY keyboard. There are 8 keys which are used to compose the Braille letters. Of course, there are standard QWERTY keyboards which have Braille letters overlaid on them, but Braille keyboards are made in a way which makes navigation and locating the cursor much easier for visually-impaired people.
Web Access Tools for people with Physical Disabilities
Another option for hands-free mouse tracking is to use Lomak, which is a light-operated mouse and keyboard. A small device with a laser pointer is worn on the head (or, alternatively, on the arm). By moving the head to point the laser light at various points on the keyboard or screen, users can control the cursor. The Lomak keyboard is also controlled by the laser light, and has an option for voice-controlled confirmation of commands.
Website Owners — Accessibility is Your Responsibility
As an essential part of the day to day lives of millions, assistive technologies are not going anywhere. As the online world continues to grow and develop, so too will the range of website accessibility tools and assistive technologies available. If your website is designed and maintained with assistive technologies in mind, however, you can ensure that those who are reliant on website accessibility tools and accessibility software can use them successfully on your website.To create websites that are friendly to assistive technologies, it is first important to become aware of the different kinds of web accessibility tools that are out there, and how exactly these web accessibility tools are used in practice. Try to put yourself in the shoes of those with a mental or physical impairment when creating new online content and consider what web accessibility tools they might require to get the most out of their experience. Remember, a web accessibility tool is only useful if the website it is being used on is compatible with it.