Guide to Software Accessibility for the Disabled

People without disabilities may not realize or appreciate the many different limitations that can exist for people with these challenges. A variety of disabilities can prevent people from using computers easily or effectively. People with hearing or visual impairments can benefit from special software designed to make up for the physical limitations that prevent hearing and seeing content on the computer. Even people with learning and motor disabilities can receive assistance from computer software)designed to compensate for these challenges.

Deaf and Hearing Impairments

A person with a hearing impairment may use hearing aids or cochlear implants depending on the type and level of impairment. People who have hearing impairments can benefit from computer software designed to be used in conjunction with hearing aids or cochlear implants, as well as software meant to be used alone. Some devices amplify sounds to enable hearing at a higher volume. Other devices provide text captioning on a screen or monitor. Captioning devices are also ideal for people who are completely deaf.

Blindness and Visual Impairments

Using a computer can present different challenges for people with visual impairments or people who are completely blind. People with impairments that reduce vision need special software that enables them to see small images and text. Magnification programs can increase the size of images and text on screens. Other programs can operate as screen readers, with speech converters that speak the text appearing on screens. Special eBook readers also exist that will read electronic publications to people with visual impairments.

Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities include issues with cognitive or physical impairment, depending on the nature of the problems. People with these types of limitations can often learn to use computers, but sometimes they require additional assistance to do so successfully. Ideal software will make computers accessible, while enabling people to use and expand their personal strengths to overcome their unique challenges. Some people may have trouble writing, reading, remembering, or organizing information. Assistive programs can provide help with optical character recognition, speech-recognition, talking word processors and spelling checkers, word prediction, audio books, abbreviation expansion, and audio dictionaries or encyclopedias.

Motor Disabilities

Some people experience disabilities like paralysis, loss of limbs, or diseases that result in reduced muscle control. People with any of these conditions will often be unable to use a mouse or a computer keyboard to operate a computer or other electronic device. Assistive technologies exist to make it possible for people with motor disabilities to use computers. Assistive technology can include adaptive keyboards, head wands, mouth sticks, and voice recognition software. Adaptive keyboards can have raised areas of the keyboard to enable use. Often these keyboards have special technology that completes words to reduce the number of keystrokes necessary to type. Head wands and mouth sticks enable users to use their heads or mouths to operate a mouse or type on a keyboard.

Other Disabilities

A common technology offered by many different types of assistive devices is voice recognition. With voice recognition software, a person can see, hear, and access information on a computer using just voice commands. This enables people with not only hearing and vision impairments, but also learning and motor disabilities, to utilize computers effectively. Computer software is even capable of learning unique speech traits of specific users to increase the effectiveness of the technology. For example, some people with disabilities have slurred speech, which software can learn to understand over time. Developers are continually working to design newer and better technologies to assist people with disabilities.