With the continuous growth of information and assistive technologies, nations across the world are focusing on accessibility issues and are encouraging the implementation of accessibility through legislation. In the US, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for Accessible Design states that all forms of information technology must be accessible to people with disabilities. In addition, section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 aims to provide opportunities for all people to use the Internet. Other countries like the UK, Sweden, Japan, and Norway have taken positive steps to legislate accessibility in an attempt to make technology accessible to all. In fact, reference materials are available that help federal agencies to determine whether a product or service is complaint with accessibility standards—for example, the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) in the United States. Private-sector companies can also utilize such helpful resources in evaluating the accessibility of their products.
Today, we have advanced assistive tools that aid people with disabilities in using technology comfortably and optimally. Some popular and effective accessibility tools and devices include the following:
- screen readers—These advanced accessibility programs for the visually impaired are built into computing systems. They convert the text that appears on a computer display into voice output, Braille, or audio signals. A screen reader can detect and read all kinds of text on a computer screen—for example, text in dialog boxes, values in text boxes and lists, icon labels, and commands on menus.
- text-to-speech features—Most word-processing software provides a text-to-speech feature to facilitate accessibility. This software converts text to speech, reading the text to the user using a speech synthesizer. Text-to-speech features are very helpful to users who are visually impaired.
- closed captioning—This capability provides a text view of the audio portion of a video or of a sound clip. It helps users with hearing impairments and can provide translations.
- chart-retrieval systems—Users with motor disabilities can use such systems to enter a message by selecting words from the choices that are presented in a chart.
- mouth sticks—These revolutionary accessibility devices enable users with physical disabilities to control computer input using a stick that is placed in the mouth. A blow suck tube is a form of mouth stick and can be used along with a tongue-activated joystick to move a pointer.
- chording keyboards—These advanced devices let users push multiple keys simultaneously in different patterns to type text or issue commands. In fact, they allow users to type faster than conventional keyboards do.
- sticky keys—This assistive feature lets users apply modifier keys such as the Shift, Control, Command, and Alt or Option keys to the next keystroke.
- reminder systems—These common systems alert users about important events.
In addition to these tools, there are quite a few other assistive tools that help users who have repetitive-stress injuries such as cumulative-trauma disorder or carpal-tunnel syndrome. Such tools include dictation systems.