What is assistive technology?

Assistive technology is any kind of technology and/or tool that can be used to enhance the functional independence of a person with a disability. Often, for people with disabilities, accomplishing daily tasks such as communicating with others, going to school or work, or participating in activities can be a challenge. Assistive Technology (AT) devices are tools to help overcome those challenges and enable people living with disabilities to enhance and have access to a quality of life, that may otherwise not be known, and lead more independent lives.

The mission of this blog is to serve as a voice of a constant researcher in the field of educational and assistive technologies so that the best products, strategies and services may be located easily, in hopes that they will then be delivered, taught and used to better the lives of people with disabilities.


Built-in Accessibility of Computer and Tablet Systems


"We believe that technology should be accessible to everyone." Apple

As Disabled World defines the meaning of computer software accessibility: "In human-computer interaction, computer accessibility (also known as accessible computing) refers to the accessibility of a computer system to all people, regardless of disability or severity of impairment, examples include web accessibility guidelines."

You can change the default display settings in the operating system of your computer, which will apply to all your applications (rather than changing only the settings of your web browser.) For example, you can increase the default font-size which will make the text larger in your browser as well as in your system. There are screen magnifiers, some of which are built directly into your operating system of your computer. These software tools enlarge the text and images, and can sometimes be set to read the text and the menus out loud. You can change the default color and font schemes in the operating system of your computer, which will apply to all your applications rather than to your web browser alone. You can set your web browser to reuse these color and font schemes or define different schemes for the Web, for instance to better highlight links. Some operating systems provide a selection of desktop schemes, including schemes with higher color contrast. Be sure to get to know and really look at all the options available in your system.

Ease of Access Centre Guide for Windows 7 by Craig Mill is a downloadable document about how Microsoft has included a range of accessibility features (Accessibility Options) in its operating systems. Windows 7 incorporates several improvements such as a change of name from 'Accessibility Options' to 'Ease of Access Centre'. These features provide a valuable but often overlooked method of supporting learners with additional support needs. The Ease of Access Centre, found in the Control Panel, brings together all the accessibility options and adds some new features. Better Web Browsing: Tips for Customizing Your Computer provides references to resources, including detailed documentation and step-by-step guides, to help you customize your particular web browser and computer setup.
Computer Basics - Using Accessibility Features is a great resource for finding links, and directions.

Accessibility options can make it easier to see, hear, and use your device and include ways to personalize your system to fit various needs for people with temporary or lifetime challenges.

Most computers and mobile devices come with built-in accessibility features today, although they'll usually need to be turned on before you can use them. Accessibility options are more the norm in devices, browsers and software programs, but what is available and how do we access these options often needs to be learned. Knowing what is available is the first step in finding them. Become familiar with the terms and you will find others that are pretty much the same.

A few examples:
  • Magnifier usually includes a lens mode and full-screen mode.
  • Keyboard shortcuts are abundant and an on-screen keyboard may now be adjusted to make it easier to see/access and include text prediction. An option such as Sticky Keys will allow for one-handed 3-key access.
  • Speech recognition is more than often built in and won’t require separate software.
  • Touch technology is often available to allow for direct finger access.
Are these features only for those with disabilities? This is where we see the world has embraced UDL (Universal Design for Learning) attributes! What may be critical for some are just plain useful and easier for others.

“Accessibility can empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more, whether your personal limits last a day or a lifetime.”

“We believe that technology can provide great learning tools for all learning abilities.” Apple

Sady Paulson is passionate about making films. And Apple helps her turn that passion into videos that can be viewed by millions.Paulson has cerebral palsy. She uses Apple's accessibility tech like Switch Control to interact with her computers, iPhone, and iPad. The 29-year-old was a special guest at Thursday's Apple event when the company unveiled the first new line of MacBook Pro notebooks in four years.

It’s a wonderful world and just continues to get better, where technology is concerned. People are now realizing, as Luis Perez says, "What's essential for some, is almost always helpful for all." So by removing barriers and making it possible for people with disabilities to showcase their ability, we all benefit.

Let’s look at accessibility in some of the hardware and software that we are using today: PC, Mac, Windows, Office, Google, Browsers and mobile devices.

Operating Systems:


Which version are you using? This is the first thing to figure out. Once you know this, let’s see what is available and how to access it. (Starting with Windows 7.)

Microsoft Office

Mac and iOS
With Apple products, every device not only has accessible features — but accessible principles — built right in and work the same in every device. Apple breaks it down by need:

Check out their general Google Apps user guide to accessibility (includes Google calendar, email, documents, etc.) also, Products and Features: Explore some of Google's accessibility features and products.

The Google world is really changing and becoming very robust. Penn State has provided a nice synopsis which provides some general guidelines for making your Google Drive documents more accessible, with a link to more detailed information at the end. This is worth visiting if you use Google Drive.

Mobile Devices:

Many web browsers provide numerous extra features that make web browsing more accessible. These features can include keyboard shortcuts, overriding page colors and fonts, increasing page font-size, zooming capabilities, screen reader capability, and controlling web content, including pop-ups. (These changes are often temporary and may be lost when you open a new browser window or the next time you start your web browser. To make text and images appear larger by default in your web browser, you need to modify the settings of the web browser.) The 4 major web browsers I will cover are Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and Safari, which all implement the accessibility features in different ways.

  • Google Chrome browser (scroll down to Chrome Browser) supports screen readers, keyboard access, zoom, high contrast, magnification, and other accessibility features. You can also add Chrome extensions to customize your browser with extra accessibility functionality.
  • Mozilla Firefox includes many features to make the browser and web content accessible to all users, including those who have low vision, no vision, or limited ability to use a keyboard or mouse.
  • Internet Explorer includes accessibility settings to help all users, including those with disabilities, move around the Internet easier, see webpages more clearly, and access information quickly.
  • Safari is used on Apple devices so their accessibility options are covered in the hardware.

More Resources worth Exploring: