Assistive Technology Overview

Yesterday I sat in on an AHEAD webinar.  The focus was to introduce assistive technologies to non-geeks.  While I’m relatively familiar with these technologies, I’m always interested in learning more, and I’m interested in others on campus learning more about any aspects of accessibility.

The presentation had its better and worse parts, but here are some of the notes I made that may be interesting to everyone.

The government has a formal definition for assistive technology: “Assistive technology (AT) can be defined as any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.”  (29 U.S.C. Sec 2202(2))

Major Types of Computer-Based Assistive Technology

  • Screen Reader
    • JAWS, Window Eyes, NVDA, SuperNova
  • Screen Magnification
    • MAGic, ZoomText
  • System Display Controls
    • (built into the operating system)
  • Text-to-speech utlities
    • Central Access Reader, Balabolka, TextAloud
  • Speech Recognition
    • Dragon Naturally Speaking, Dragon for Mac
  • Scanning/Reading/Writing support packages
    • Read and Write Gold, WYNN, Kurzweil 3000

Non-Computer Assistive Technology Examples

  • Closed-Captioned Television (CCTV)
  • Assistive Listening Devices


  • Organizations: AHEAD, ATHEN
  • Listservs: DSSHE, ATHEN, AHEAD

Focus on the tasks that someone is trying to accomplish.  For example, someone who needs to…

  • Interact with the computer non-visually.
  • Enlarge text and images on the computer, and/or change other display characteristics.
  • Hear text spoken aloud.
  • Control the computer without using keyboard or mouse.
  • Enlarge paperwork or models.
  • Amplify and/or isolate certain sounds

Tasks and Possible Solutions

  • Organization of projects/papers
    • FreeMind (free mind mapping)
  • Learning terminology
  • Spelling (beyond Word’s dictionary)
  • Writing
    • Dragon Naturally Speaking – PC (avoid the home version)
    • Dragon for Mac
  • Note Taking
    • Livescribe pen
    • Echo with earbuds
  • Using PDFs effectively
    • NitroPDF Reader (free)
  • Completing reading assignments in alternative formats
    • Word using Central Access Reader (PC)
    • Word using Text to Speech (Mac OS feature)

Additional Links

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