Accessibility is often seen as minority issue, but a study commissioned by Microsoft and conducted by Forrester Research found that 57 percent of working-age computer users (18-64 years old) are likely to benefit from accessible technology.
For students with disabilities, technology can open up new windows of learning opportunity. For example:
For people with vision difficulties, Refreshable Braille displays provide tactile output of information represented on the computer screen. The user reads the Braille letters with his or her fingers, and then, after a line is read, refreshes the display to read the next line. For those with less severe difficulties, areas of the screen can be enlarged using a (software) magnifier. A screen reader can be used to “speak,” everything on the screen. Speech recognition allows people to give commands and enter data using their voices.
Those suffering from motor (co-ordination) impairments, typing aids, such as word prediction utilities are available. Keyboard filters enable users to quickly access the letters they need and to avoid inadvertently selecting keys they don’t want. “Touch screens” allow manipulation of the computer by touching the screen. Alternative input devices (including alternative keyboards, electronic pointing devices, sip-and-puff systems, wands and sticks, joysticks and trackballs) allow individuals to control their computers through means other than a standard keyboard or pointing device.
For people with hearing difficulties, it’s possible for computer systems to visualize sound messages – e.g. sounds that would normally be played when an e-mail arrives can be displayed as a flashing caption.
People with learning, language and communication difficulties can use word prediction programs which help users increase written productivity and accuracy, and increase vocabulary skills through word prompting. Reading comprehension programs focus on establishing or improving reading skills through ready-made activities, stories, exercises, or games. These programs can help users practice letter sound recognition and can increase the understanding of words by adding graphics, sound, and animation.
Dyslexia is a dysfunction regarding reading and writing and technology can be used to provide:
- Assistance: spelling checker, grammar control, text-to-speech
- Visualization: icons instead of text menus, magnifier – zoom
- Collaboration: sharing the desktop so peers can help
Absence because of disability, illness, or fatigue, for example, disconnects students from the school environment. This can be addressed through video conferencing tools so students catch up through live distant learning. They can see all the shared items on a shared screen, listen to the explanation and interact with the teacher and with fellow students.
Ability Net – a UK based charity that provides guidance, information, assessment and training on the subject of computing and disability http://www.abilitynet.org.uk/
Accessibilty Guide from Microsoft – www.microsoft.com/education/enable