This article will discuss and demonstrate several assistive technologies and devices that help make the web more accessible for the visually impaired.
Today’s full-featured screen magnifiers can magnify all screen items, including the mouse pointer, text cursor, icons, buttons, and title bars. In addition, the magnifiers provide a set of mouse tracking features, such as the option to link the mouse pointer to screen movement, increase the size and visibility of the mouse pointer, and limit mouse movement to horizontal or vertical directions only. Other features include breaking lines of magnified text automatically so that they fit on the screen and the option of selecting various contrast levels.
American Foundation for the Blind
Screen Readers and Magnifiers
A screen reader is a software application that attempts to identify and interpret what is being displayed on the screen (or, more accurately, sent to standard output, whether a video monitor is present or not). This interpretation is then re-presented to the user with text-to-speech, sound icons, or a Braille output device. Screen readers are a form of assistive technology (AT) potentially useful to people who are blind, visually impaired, illiterate or learning disabled, often in combination with other AT, such as screen magnifiers.
A screen magnifier can either be a physical device attached to or mounted in front of the computer screen which magnifies the computer image using a Fresnel lens, or it can be software that interfaces with a computer’s graphical output to present enlarged screen content. It is a type of assistive technology suitable for visually impaired people with some functional vision; visually impaired people with little or no functional vision usually use a screen reader.
Popular Screen Reading Software
SuperNova by Dolphin – a screen reader and screen magnifier with natural sounding speech and robust refreshable Braille synchronized or used separately. Launch SuperNova Access Suite and people who are blind or partially sighted can create beautifully formatted documents, connect with friends via social networks, or plan that next trip.
- Crystal clear magnifier enlarges everything on screen up to 60 times
- Natural sounding male and female voices speak documents and apps out loud
- Intelligent screen reader allows precise control of what is announced
- Robust Braille output and input with more than 60 different displays
- Hundreds of main stream Office, web browser and leisure apps supported
MAGic by FreedomScientific – a screen magnification and screen reading solution for low vision computer users. MAGic can help you work more efficiently with business applications, documents, email, navigating the Internet, and engaging in social networking. MAGic delivers smooth, crisp letters, even at the highest magnification levels.
- 75 magnification levels
- High-definition text and crisp fonts
- High-definition mouse and cursor enhancement options
- Built-in color enhancements
- Designed to work well on computers with JAWS is installed
JAWS by FreedomScientific – Job Access With Speech, is the world’s most popular screen reader, developed for computer users whose vision loss prevents them from seeing screen content or navigating with a mouse. JAWS provides speech and Braille output for the most popular computer applications on your PC.
- Two multi-lingual synthesizers
- Built-in free DAISY Player
- Fast information look-up at your fingertips with Research It
- Convenient OCR feature provides access to the text of PDF documents, even those with scanned images that are reported as empty documents by screen readers
- Save time with Skim Reading
- Fully compatible with MAGic, screen magnification software
ZoomText by Ai Squared – the world’s leading magnification and screen reading software for the visually impaired, helping countless individuals stay employed and in touch with the world.
- Zoom in with perfect clarity with up to 60 times magnification
- Touch screen support
- Reads aloud everything on your computer screen
- Change colors on screen to improve contrast and reduce eyestrain
- Free technical support
Beyond End-User Software
In addition to the above mentioned software-based assistive technologies, there are also certain steps web developers can take when coding, to promote better screen visibility for those who have visual impairments.
The The W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines suggest the following:
- Provide text alternatives for non-text content
- Make content adaptable so it can be presented with simpler layout without losing information or structure
- Make all functionality available from a keyboard
- Provide ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are
- Make web pages appear and operate in predictable ways
- Help users avoid and correct mistakes
- Focusing on accessibility principles and techniques
- Making sure your website meets legal guidelines and international standards
- Limited registration to ensure you get individualized attention
More Information on Assistive Devices and Web Development Techniques
- WebAIM – Web Accessibility In Mind
- Beginners guide to assistive technology – Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB)
- Designing an Accessible Website – American Foundation for the Blind
- Web Accessibility Initiative – W3C
SuperNova in action:
MAGic in action:
JAWS in action:
ZoomText in action: