What is web accessibility – assistive technologies

The basic idea is that through a range of technologies called assistive technology, anyone with a disability, can access the internet. Assistive technologies vary greatly based on the disability, and some people don’t need assistive technologies, but they may use their computer slightly differently. For example someone with RSI may not be able to use a mouse. They rely completely on a keyboard. The next time you look at your own website try using the tab key to move around. Can you get into the menus? Are there any pop up windows that can only be closed by clicking your mouse? Being able to navigate a web page with a keyboard is fundamental for many different disabilities. We have touched on RSI, but also those who are blind cannot use a mouse as they can’t see where the curser is on the page, someone who cannot use their arms may rely on switch technology which works as a tab to go through the page. Types of assistive technology people could be using include:

  • Screen readers – reads out what is on the screen, usually used by blind people, most used screen readers are JAWS and NVDA
  • Magnifiers – Makes the screen larger for people with low vision, it can also adjust the colour contrast on the screen a popular magnifier is ZoomText
  • Speech recognition software – This types the words as someone is talking
  • Literacy software solutions – quite a specific type of assistive technology, as well as reading what is on the screen like a screen reader these have all kinds of other features that dyslexic people (and people with learning disabilities have) such as special dictionaries./word look ups and calculators, a free resource is NaturalReader

All of these tools could be used on your website by your customers, unlike in a face to face environment you have no idea how your customer may be accessing your website so its important to ensure your website works with these assistive technologies or you will be loosing customers.