Computers

Free Computer AT Already in Macintosh Computers

The Macintosh OS X operating system built-in accessibility features to make the monitor, keyboard, or mouse easier to use for many people. This article provides information on these features, including how to turn them on and use them. Some of these features are also available in earlier Macintosh systems; please contact us if you would like more information. Another good resource on Macintosh accessibility is the AT Mac blog.

Mouse Assistance/Alternatives

MouseKeys

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Free Computer AT Already in Windows Computers

The Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8 operating systems all include a wide range of built-in accessibility features. These can be activated to make the monitor, keyboard, or mouse easier to use for many people. This article provides information on these features, including how to turn them on and use them in all three versions of Windows. Most of these features are also available in earlier Windows systems.

Mouse Assistance/Alternatives

MouseKeys

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Assistive Technology and Elders

When considering assistive computer technology for elders, three issues need to be addressed: how will they need to be accommodated, what technology exists to provide accommodations, and how can these technologies be presented so elders will use them.

How Do Elders Need To Be Accommodated?

For elders, disability exists on a continuum of severity. Some disabilities are a natural part of aging and are generally mild.  Other disabilities rise in incidence with age, and may be mild to severe. Finally, more people with mild to severe long-term disabilities are living well beyond retirement age.

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Accessibility Considerations for Library Software

What Are the Problems?

Using a library now means using software: online resources, Internet workstations, and the library's own website and catalogue create a software-based experience for patrons and staff. Users may have trouble:

  • Seeing content on the monitor
  • Using the keyboard or mouse
  • Understanding complicated directions
  • Any of the other typical computer software barriers

These barriers may appear anywhere in your software environment:

  • Information resources, which provide information or point to information--e.g., journal articles or bibliographic databases.
  • Administrative software, which provides an interface between users and applications, and control computer usage from signin through providing alerts when a user's time is up.
  • Security systems, which are intended to prevent malicious use of software and reset the system and programs to their defaults between users. These may also be used by other types of public computer labs.

There are easy, inexpensive solutions for almost all of these problems.

Legal Obligations

The Americans with Disabilities Act, which covers public and private libraries and many other institutions, states that “No individual shall be discriminated against…in the full and equal enjoyment of …services…." Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which covers some libraries, also requires accessible information technology.

Getting Started

The software used in your library should be as accessible as possible, and you can help move it in that direction without becoming an accessibility guru.  This article will go over some steps you can take:

  • Getting Close to Your Users
  • Your IT Staff
  • When You're in the Market
  • If You've Got Technical Resources

Getting Close to Your Users

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Free and Cheap Screen Readers

Screen reader software converts text on a computer screen into synthetic speech and/or braille. The software also allows the keyboard to replace the mouse in controlling the computer, and provides other help in navigating. Although the most popular screen readers cost about $1000, this article covers some that are free or at low cost. They work relatively well with the basic popular software applications and general Internet tools, but do not have the "power user" features found on the more sophisticated programs.

Windows

NVDA (non-visual desktop access) is an open-source screen reader for Windows. It works with common programs such as Microsoft Word and Internet Explorer.

Thunder is another free Windows screen reader offered by a group in the United Kingdom.

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Assistive Technology on USB Drives

Many assistive technology software programs are available on USB drives (also known as "flash" or "thumb" drives). These drives allow the programs to be run without being installed on the computer, which may be ideal for public computers with security settings that prevent software installation. A library patron, for example, may show up with his or her preferred AT, requiring little additional effort or expense from the library. This article covers how your library or other public access point can take advantage of these accessibility solutions.

Public computing locations should have IT management policies and procedures in place that let users show up with their own AT, while protecting the security of the computers and network. A staffer may have to work with the user to get the software to run effectively on your machines.

Here are some things to watch out for:

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Large Computer Pointers/Cursors

Current computer operating systems use a small icon called a pointer or cursor that moves on the screen when the mouse is moved. The most common pointers are an arrow, a vertical bar that appears in word processing document (sometimes called the I-Beam), and a hand that appears on web pages when the pointer is on top of a link. These pointers can be quite small or may blend in with the background, making them difficult to see, especially for people with low vision.

This article discusses several ways to make the pointer more visible. Utilities built into the operating system can make the pointer easier to see by making it larger, providing higher contrast, or providing supplemental visual cues. If these are not sufficient, some third-party programs have additional capabilities.

Try It Yourself:

Pointer modification: Provides themes that change the color and size of the standard pointers. One Windows option has an option for animating the pointers, which may help in catching users' attention.

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Screen Readers for Blind Users

Screen readers provide an audio version of information that appears on a computer screen. They use keyboard commands to substitute for mouse use, and read almost everything on the screen, including menus, dialogue boxes, etc.

This article covers both free and third-party commercial screen readers designed for use by blind people, and will help you get started.

Programs designed for use by sighted people with learning or cognitive disabilities are covered in the article "Text-to-Speech Readers for People with Learning Disabilities."

Most screen readers are highly customizable, so that users can specify preferences such as whether punctuation is read, how fast the program speaks, or whether cues helpful for new users are spoken.

A video introduction to how blind people use screen readers is available online.

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Setting Up Accessible Workstations

When discussing computer accessibility in public computer labs, much attention is given to modifications to the monitor, keyboard, and mouse. However, for some users, accessible furniture and good lighting are equally if not more important. Setting up accessible computer workstations at a library or other public access point requires some planning, but usually little additional expense.

This article goes over some of the major considerations to help you get started.

  • Wheelchair access.  Make sure that there is an accessible path of travel to at least one of your workstations.  Chairs should be easy to move out of the way so a wheelchair can fit at the workstation, without inconveniencing other patrons.
     

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Accessibility Features in Computer Operating Systems

All current computer operating systems include features that make using the computer easier for people with disabilities.  For many people, these features may provide sufficient accommodations or may be the best available solution. In other cases, the features are scaled-down versions of capabilities that are available in more sophisticated versions from third-party vendors.

These features accommodate a wide range of users:

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