Public access point/Community technology center

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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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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How to Handle a Request for Specific Accessibility Solutions

It can be great when the people you work with know exactly what they want.  It can also be a nightmare!  People responsible for accessibility report that they are often contacted by someone insisting on a particular solution to an accessibility problem, even if they have only seen it at a conference, heard about it from a peer, or read about it in a newspaper.

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Assistive Listening Technology

People who are hard of hearing may have trouble hearing a speaker in a public auditorium or meeting room, even if they use hearing aids or have cochlear implants.  Assistive listening technology is a way your organization can improve the quality and volume of the audio delivered to these audience members.  There are many options. 

This article will cover some of the issues and solutions.

The basic idea of assistive listening systems is that the audio signal is collected and transmitted to units that "feed" into a person's hearing aids or cochlear implant.

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Comparing the Accessibility and Screen Enhancement Features of Google Android Lollipop 5.0 and Apple iOS 8.1.1 for People with Low Vision

The AFB has posted a good comparison of the two dominant smartphone operating systems

"It can be argued that Apple has represented the gold standard of accessibility for some time now. It is reassuring to see Google taking accessibility more seriously with its more recent Android releases that include Magnification Gestures and color inversion."

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Center for Accessible Technology & ATT Host Access Hackathon

On the weekend of October 25th, 2014 the Center for Accessible Technology (CforAT), in conjunction with AT&T, hosted an "Accessibility Hackathon" at the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley.

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