Accessibility – Laptops and Desktops

What are accessibility features?

Accessibility features are designed to help people with disabilities use technology more easily. For example, a text-to-speech feature may read text aloud for people with limited vision, while a speech-recognition feature allows users with limited mobility to control the computer with their voice. In this lesson, I’ll introduce you to some common accessibility features. I’ll also mention assistive technology that you can attach to your computer for greater accessibility.

Common accessibility features

Although some accessibility features require special software downloads, many are built into the operating system of your computer or mobile device. Here are just a few types of accessibility features you may already have on your device.

·         Features for blind or low-vision computer users: Features such as text-to-speech allow users to hear what’s on the screen instead of reading it. Other features, like high-contrast themes and enlarged cursors, make it easier for users with limited vision to see the screen.

·         Features for deaf or low-hearing computer users: Closed captioning helps to convey audio information to deaf users in visual form. Mono audio systems transmit right and left audio signals through both earbuds and headphones so users with limited hearing in one ear will not miss part of what they are listening to.

·         Features for limited-mobility computer users: Keyboard shortcuts are convenient for many people, but they are especially helpful to those with difficulty physically manipulating a mouse. For users who have difficulty pressing several keys at once, sticky keys allow them to press keys one at a time to activate a shortcut.

Using accessibility features

Most computers and mobile devices come with built-in accessibility features, although they’ll usually need to be turned on before you can use them. Let’s take a look at how to locate these features for your device.

·         In Windows, open the Settings app then click Ease of Access.

·         In macOS, open System Preferences, then click Accessibility (or Universal Access in older versions).

·         On mobile devices that use Android or iOS, open the Settings app, then locate the Accessibility section. On iOS devices, you’ll find it within the General settings category.

Web accessibility

Most web browsers also offer their own built-in accessibility features. You’ll usually find these options in your browser’s settings.

Before you adjust these settings, you may want to try zooming instead. Zooming is a straightforward way to make webpages easier to read, and it works the same way in most browsers. If you’re using a browser in Windows, you can zoom in or out by pressing Ctrl+ or Ctrl- (hold down the Ctrl key and press the + or – key). If you’re using a Mac, you’ll press Command+ or Command-.

To return to the default zoom level, press Ctrl+0 (hold down the Ctrl key and press the zero key). If you’re using a Mac, press Command+0.

Accessibility features in specific software

There are many more accessibility features you can use, depending on the type of computer you have and the software you use. The resources below will direct you to accessibility features for some of the most used applications.

·         Microsoft Accessibility: Here, you’ll find news on Microsoft’s accessibility projects, as well as help pages on accessibility features in the Windows operating system and in the Microsoft Office suite.

·         Apple Accessibility: This is Apple’s overview site for accessibility features on Macs, iPods, iPhones, and iPads. From here, you can navigate to help documents for specific features.

·         AppleVis: This community-based website offers tips, tutorials, and product reviews for blind and low-vision users of Apple products.

Assistive technology devices

As you’ve already seen, software can do a lot to make computers more accessible for disabled users. However, some accessibility features require extra hardware, or assistive technology. Most assistive-technology devices are like keyboards and speakers—they are peripherals that can be plugged into the main computer. Here are some common types of assistive technology you may encounter.

·         Screen magnifiers: Screen magnifiers can be placed over your computer’s monitor to ensure the content on the screen always appears magnified. Today, most people use the magnifier or zoom features on their operating systems to view content, but external magnifiers are still available as well.

·         Alternative keyboards: For people who have difficulty using standard keyboards, there are a range of alternative options. For example, users can purchase keyboards with larger keys that are easier to see or press. They can also buy keyboards with alternative key arrangements, including arrangements for people who can only type with one hand or with a limited number of fingers.

·         Switch-adapted peripherals: Switch devices allow people with limited mobility to control technology with minimal motions, such as a puff of breath or a head movement. Switch-adapted mice and keyboards make it possible for disabled users to interact with computers even if they are unable to operate peripherals with their hands.

There are a number of organisations, that provide assistance in the use of accessibility options. In the UK one charity that provides assistance to users, with a wide range of disabilities is AbilityNet.