Adaptive Software and Devices

In addition to accessibility features that are included in computer operating systems at the Center for Student Disability Services, there are a number of software programs and hardware devices that help disabled users access computers and printed materials. These accessibility devices and programs can be divided into categories that deal with the needs of users having a variety of disabilities.

Screen Readers

Screen reading programs assist students who are blind or who have severe visual impairments and cannot see the information displayed on the screen. Screen reading programs have a number of keyboard commands that enable the user to hear information on the screen spoken in a meaningful way so that they can use standard applications, including browsers. Screen reading keyboard commands are also used to perform mouse functions, as users often cannot see the mouse pointer and are unable to operate the mouse. In order to adequately benefit from the access provided from screen reading programs, users have to spend several hours of training and practice to learn the numerous commands and to adequately navigate the various application interfaces and varying screed layouts. Screen reading programs don't work with all applications, and in some cases additional scripts have to be developed in order to use less standard programs. Two leading screen reading programs used in the Windows OS environment are JAWS and WindowEyes.

Screen Magnification Programs

Screen magnification programs enable the user to change the size of the screen output. As the magnification is increased, a smaller portion of the screen is displayed in magnified view. Screen magnification programs will track cursor and pointer movements and usually focus on the action area of the screen. In addition to magnification features, these programs also have color filtering and other features that may make the screen display more accessible to users with different visual preferences. Some screen magnification programs also come with a limited screen reading capacity. Two of the leading screen magnification programs used in the Windows OS environment are ZoomText and MAGIC.

Voice Recognition Systems

Voice recognition programs enable users with limited use of their hands or who are unable to use the standard keyboard to use computers. Screen recognition systems involve the use of a microphone for dictating text and commands. Once users have completed a short training period in which they dictate several paragraphs of text so that the system can recognize their particular speech patterns, they can then use the system for dictating and interfacing in a variety of standard applications. Users must also learn basic syntax commands so that navigation, editing and interfacing can be done in addition to dictating. Dragon Naturally Speaking is one of the popular voice recognition programs used with the Windows-based computers.

OCR-based Reading Systems

Reading systems involve scanning documents using optical character recognition (OCR) scanning devices that copy the information from hard copy documents and place it onto the computer screen. Once the material has been scanned and recognized, users can have the documents read to them with voiced output of the text. OCR-based reading systems are helpful for users who have reading and processing difficulties as well as users with visual disabilities that prevent or limit access to printed materials. Kurzweil 1000/3000 are examples of reading systems used in computers with Windows OS.