The disabled are more than tech ableWednesday, August 26, 2020
Much the same way that exploration of outer space is providing the world with everyday benefits, integrating the disabled into everyday life is also generating new techniques even for the able-bodied among us.
This is ever evident in the computer world where adaptive technology has made a world of difference and provided independence for millions of individuals with sensory, physical, and learning disabilities.
Today, people with and without disabilities alike benefit from what began as workplace accommodations: captioned presentations are no longer just for employees who are deaf or hard of hearing.
There are thousands who now benefit from a variety of computer-aided technologies which have become mainstream and designed to allow even totally blind people to use the computer.
They convert text and icons to speech so computers can be used without the need to see the monitor.
Accessible computer equipment and PC access aids can make it easier for computer users to use word processing programmes, surf the Internet, and send e-mail, but they can also help non-computer users handle many non-computer tasks.
The tech sector, in particular, has recognised the benefits of accessibility and has been a launchpad for innovative products.For example, all iPhones are built with assistive technologies — including screen magnification, VoiceOver, Voice Control and Speak Screen, among other features — that support users with vision, hearing, mobility or learning impairments.
Microsoft Office offers tools such as accessibility check alongside spell check. Accessible virtual intelligent assistants like Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa and Xfinity Voice Remote have proved instrumental for users who are blind or have low vision.
But these products are also widely enjoyed among non-disabled users, and are now considered mainstream.
Any system that aids individuals who are not independent verbal communicators is known as an augmentative communication system.
It can include speech, gestures, sign language, symbols, synthesised speech, dedicated communication aids or microcomputers.
Voice recognition and dictation systems are powerful assistive technologies that allow persons with disabilities to control a computer and dictate documents verbally by using spoken commands.
Alternative input devices allow individuals to control their computers through means other than a standard keyboard or pointing device.
Examples include Sip-and-puff systems — activated by inhaling or exhaling. Joysticks — manipulated by hand, feet, chin, etc, and used to control the cursor on screen.
Trackballs — movable balls on top of a base that can be used to move the cursor on screen.
Wands and sticks — worn on the head, held in the mouth or strapped to the chin and used to press keys on the keyboard.
Alternative keyboards — featuring larger- or smallerthan- standard keys or keyboards, alternative key configurations, and keyboards for use with one hand.
Electronic pointing devices — used to control the cursor on the screen without use of hands.
Devices used include ultrasound, infrared beams, eye movements, nerve signals, or brain waves.
Touchscreens — allow direct selection or activation of the computer by touching the screen, making it easier to select an option directly rather than through a mouse movement or keyboard.
Touchscreens are either built into the computer monitor or can be added onto a computer monitor.