4 Types of Assistive Technology Tools

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4 Types of Assistive Technology Tools

Posted March 02, 2023


Posted March 02, 2023

Web browser with an accessibility icon and different assistive technologies like screen readers and braille displays.
Web browser with an accessibility icon and different assistive technologies like screen readers and braille displays.

For people with disabilities, assistive technologies can make it easier to browse websites and accomplish tasks online. What are the top tools your organization should account for?

According to a report by the World Health Organization, there will be an estimated 2 billion assistive technology users by 2030.

With that in mind, businesses should already have a plan for how all users will be able to access their website — today and in the future.

So, what does your organization need to know about assistive technology? And how can you make sure your website is compatible with these technologies? In this post, we break down some of the most common technologies and explain how they can support more accessible browsing experiences for people with disabilities.

What Is Assistive Technology?

Assistive technology (AT) is any device, software, or equipment used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of people with disabilities. Screen readers, voice recognition software, reading assistants, and switch devices that replace the need to use a keyboard or mouse are examples of AT.

Typically, the accessibility needs of users are grouped into four areas:

  • Visual: People who are blind, low vision, or color blind.
  • Auditory: People who are deaf or hard of hearing.
  • Motor: People who have limited fine motor controls, muscle slowness, or tremors and spasms
  • Cognitive: People who have learning disabilities, memory impairment, attention disorders, or difficulty with problem solving and logic.

For each of these groups, there are different types of AT built to help them access digital content.

What Are the Different Kinds of Assistive Technology?

With so many different types of assistive technology, it can be difficult to know where to start. Here are four of the most common types — and how they can support more accessible browsing experiences for people with disabilities:

A stylized web page with icons for text-to-speech and Braille

1. Screen Readers

A screen reader is a software application that uses text-to-speech technology to read out loud digital content for people who are blind or visually impaired.

Screen reader programs have hundreds of commands to help people carry out different tasks, from reading documents to navigating websites. Unfortunately, screen readers only work when websites follow the best practices of accessible design.

An ideal web page for a screen reader user should be keyboard accessible and include proper heading structure, labels, “skip to” links, and images with alternative text descriptions. If a website does not feature this level of accessibility, a user may find themselves lost on the site, unable to access the information they need.

Want to get a sense of how screen reader users navigate a website? Check out this blog post by Charles Hiser, one of AudioEye’s A11iance Advocates.

A mobile phone next to an icon of a person's head with a speech bubble that reads "voice-to-text"

2. Voice Recognition

One of the growing advances in assistive technology is voice recognition, which benefits people with physical disabilities who cannot use a mouse and keyboard. Voice recognition is also useful for people with cognitive or learning disabilities such as dyslexia, who might struggle with spelling and sentence structure.

Whether it’s browsing the web or writing emails, people can use voice-to-text technology to write by speaking out loud. Voice recognition can also be useful to anyone who finds typing with a keyboard to be tiring, painful, or even impossible.

Although there are many voice recognition solutions on the market, an equivalent web experience is not guaranteed for every user. Content must be designed and coded to take advantage of voice control, as supplied by third-party solutions.

A stylized web page with arrows going across the page next to an icon of a switch device.

3. Switch Devices

A switch device is a type of assistive technology that replaces the need to use a keyboard or mouse. It is used by people with motor impairments to access and control computers, smartphones, electric wheelchairs, and communication devices.

There are many factors involved when choosing the best switch device, including preference, mobility, and a user’s settings.

A classic example is a large, round button a user can press with their hand, foot or whatever is most comfortable. On the screen, a focus indicator will automatically cycle through different objects on the site, and the user clicks by activating the switch.

World-famous theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking used a “clicker” switch in his earlier years. However, as he lost control of his hand muscles due to his Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Stephen converted to using a “cheek-switch.”

A “Sip and Puff” system is another example of a switch device. This type of assistive technology allows a user to activate the switch by sipping (inhaling) or puffing (exhaling). Sip and Puff devices usually come with a joystick to control the mouse cursor with their mouth, cheek, chin or tongue. Performing cursor movements with a sip and puff joystick are fast and precise when compared to other on-screen keyboards or alternatives, which is excellent for drawing, playing games or any application requiring accurate cursor control.

Examples of barriers for people with physical disabilities using switch devices include:

  • Website or digital interface does not provide full keyboard support;
  • Hover-only states, click and drag movements or other advanced gestures; and
  • Insufficient time limits to respond or to complete tasks such as forms.
A mobile phone with icons representing color contrast and font size.

4. Reading Assistants

A reading assistant is a type of assistive technology that can help people with visual disabilities, including those with cognitive, learning and neurological disabilities, such as dyslexia. There are many reading assistants available that allow people to change the presentation of web content into forms that are more usable for their particular needs by:

  • Customizing fonts, colors, and spacing;
  • Enlarging or reducing text size and images;
  • Listening text-to-speech synthesizers like a screen reader;
  • Reading text using refreshable Braille;
  • Simplified reading modes that hide less relevant parts of the content, such as sidebars and header areas; and
  • Different ways of navigating websites, such as hierarchical menu and search.
A stylized web page with an accessibility symbol at the bottom, next to a graphic of AudioEye's Visual Toolkit.

How Can I Make My Website More Accessible?

With so many different types of assistive technology available, it can be hard to know where to get started.

At AudioEye, we offer organizations hybrid digital accessibility solutions that can help accelerate the path to ADA compliance while providing an accessible browsing experience to people with disabilities.

Want to get a sense of where your website stands today? Get a free scan of any URL to uncover accessibility issues on your site.

Ready to test your website for accessibility?

Scan your website now.

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