Assistive Technologies
Last modified on Fri 17 Mar 2023

Testing with assistive technologies

What are actually assistive technologies?

Assistive technology is any device, software, or equipment used to maintain or enhance the functional capabilities of people with disabilities:.

Common tools are wheelchairs, hearing aids, voice-enabled software, and keyboard alternatives. When we talk about assistive technologies in IT, they are the tools used to access digital information. They assist the user when he’s navigating through the page, writing, reading, and spelling. Some of them help users by reading the content out loud.

Accessibility needs of web and app users can be sorted in 4 areas:

  1. Visual - this includes all forms of visual impairments, from difficulties with discerning colors, and low vision to blindness. For these users, the main problems are images, text, and video that can’t be seen, and navigating through the page as a whole. They use screen readers and screen magnifiers.

  2. Auditory - this includes low hearing or deafness. Those individuals have trouble with the presented information that has no text explanation, such as speech, music, and sound that can usually be heard. They need alternative text explanations, subtitles, and descriptions.

  3. Motor/Mobility - difficulty or inability to use hands and loss or lack of muscle control. This group of users has to rely on mouse and keyboard alternatives and voice recognition software to be able to navigate through the apps. Their biggest problem areas are swiping, scrolling, clicking on small buttons, and similar UX/UI issues.

  4. Cognitive/Learning - this includes difficulties with problem-solving, attention, memory, reading, math, and visual comprehension. People with these problems have trouble with one or more kinds of mental tasks.

If we want to provide our users with easy and equal access to all the features of our apps or websites, and to help them interpret the content correctly, we need to make sure that our apps and websites comply with the accessibility standards. When apps are designed and developed with inclusion in mind, we remove the barriers that people with disabilities usually face when they use assistive technology.

What Assistive Tools are there?

Screen reader

Screen readers read letters, words, numbers, punctuation, and elements aloud, sending the voice output to your computer speakers or connected headphones. Full-feature screen readers include dozens of screen reader keyboard shortcuts that will read highlighted text, characters, words, paragraphs, and any number of other text elements. Screen readers can announce each keystroke as you press it, decode and describe icons, and even describe certain graphic images. Screen readers also include special mouse navigation keys that allow you to manipulate the mouse pointer, move it wherever on the screen you like, and press other keys to perform a mouse click or double click.

Examples: JAWS (Windows), NVDA, and Voiceover (Mac).

Text readers

Text reader is software used by people with various forms of learning disabilities that affect their ability to read text. This software will read text with a synthesized voice and may have a highlighter to emphasize the word being spoken. These applications do not read things such as menus or types of elements - they only read the text.

Screen magnifier

The screen magnifier allows users to control the size of the text and graphics on the screen. This is done by emulating a handheld magnifier over the screen, which the user drags around the page. If you are typing an e-mail while using a screen magnifier, for example, the program will enlarge the words you type to make them easier to read. As you type characters, issue keyboard commands, or move your mouse, a magnified screen view will keep up with what you are doing and where you are focused on the screen. Magnifiers can also sharpen edges, increase contrast, and change color combinations to make things easier to see.

Examples: MAGic, Windows Magnifier, Zoom on Macs, and ZoomText

Speech recognition

It’s speech-to-text-based software that converts the users’ speech into digital text. That text is further interpreted into commands that perform specific actions.

Examples: Alexa (Amazon), Siri (Apple), Google Assistant, Cortana (Windows).

Writing and reading assistant

Software that is optimized for assisting the readings and writings of people with dyslexia, dysgraphia, or other learning disabilities. This category of AT goes above and beyond that of a typical proofreading feature found on a word processing application.

Alternative input devices

When we're talking about using web pages - there are some users that can't use a mouse or keyboard to work on a computer. In that case, they turn to one of the following devices:

When using assistive technology, we must have in mind that the websites have to be developed properly to support those devices. If the website is not made with accessibility in mind, technologies can't work how they should. This is where WCAG comes in.