Transcription: Web Axe Episode 25 (About Impairments and Assistive Technology)

Announcer: [over music] Welcome to Web Axe: practical web accessibility tips.

Dennis: Hello and welcome Web Axe episode 25, about impairments and assisted technology.

Before we get started, I want to take care of some housecleaning here. First of all, I want to mention that I got a new headset. I tried talking on Skype with it and tried recording this podcast and the volume was really low, so I ended up going to my old one that's falling apart, but it works much better.

I want to mention that there are a couple things to look forward to for Web Axe in the future. A gentleman at, one my favorite web accessibility websites, has agreed to join me in a podcast. So look forward to that coming up in the near future. Also, a gentleman in the Ann Arbor area here, the same vicinity that I'm located in Michigan, has his own web development company and he may also be joining forces with me for this podcast and something else called Refreshing Cities, at We're looking to start a chapter for Detroit; is the URL if you want to check that out.

Okay, so let's get on with it then. About impairments and assisted technology, let's first talked about impairments or types of disabilities. I briefly covered this in a previous podcast, but we'll go over it again.

There are four or five main standardized categories or labels for impairments, and one of them is visual. That's pretty straightforward, anything from color blindness to glaucoma to full blindness.

The next is auditory, or hearing, and that's pretty self-explanatory, and that's just if someone has any hearing problems and would not be able to take advantage of any audio on a website.

The next category is motor, and that relates to people who have difficulty using a computer because of the physical limitations of their limbs. An example is a person who's paralyzed or it could also be a person with severe arthritis, who can't really click a mouse very well.

Another category is cognitive. Issues with that include memory problems, lack of attention, problem solving, some kind of verbal comprehension or linguistic problems and math comprehension.

These are things just to consider for a fully accessible website, why you to make the navigation easy to follow, keep it consistent and also keep the language clear and simple so that anyone can easily understand it.

I've just gone through the four basic categories of disabilities, but the WebAim website actually added a fifth recently, called seizure, which is all about avoiding flickers and flashes on a website so that your website does not cause people with different illnesses to go into a seizure, which is actually possible with flashing and other different kinds of imagery. The Web Content Accessibility guidelines section 508, and I'm sure in lots of other guidelines out there on accessibility, you'll find they talk about this quite extensively, actually.

Now, those were the WebAim categories for disability. On another accessibility site that I came across they talked about the same kind of being, but they had a little different categorization that I thought was interesting. They had visual, auditory and cognitive, but instead of dividing motor and seizure, they made a fourth category called neurological disabilities, which combines those two things.

That's enough about types of disabilities, but the reason I went through all of those is because now we're going to talk about some adaptive technologies, or you could say alternative input devices, that people with these types of disabilities use to access your website. While we're going through these, keep in mind some of the disabilities that we just went through and think about what it would be like to have that disability and to use these devices, and how much easier it would be if your website was fully accessible.

People with visual disabilities, that are blind, are going to be using are going to be using a screen reader, or they're going to want to increase the size of the text, or have good color contrast on the web page. Those are all things that were previously mentioned in this podcast and are in most of the accessibility guidelines, so pay attention to that.

Mostly we're going to be talking about motor disabilities because that really affects the input device that the user is going to be using. But, to belabor the point one more time, people with auditory disabilities are going to want to see captioning and things like that. I mentioned already the cognitive disabilities; make sure the language of your website is clear and simple and the navigation is consistent and easy to use.

For the motor disabilities, let's go through a bunch of different kinds of assistive technologies a person can use. The first one is a mouth stick, and is basically pretty self explanatory. It's a stick that's held in the mouth and the keyboard is activated with the stick instead of a person's fingers. It has a rubber tip at one end for the mouth and a little plastic or rubber feature on the other end. It's really actually quite popular an assistive technologies because it's much more inexpensive compared to some other ones, and it's easy to use.

Another device is the head wand, which works in a similar way, except that the wand, or stick, is attached to a head device. The person can move his or her head and access the keyboard that way.

Another device is single switch access, and this is available to people with very limited mobility. A person could activate the switch with their thumb or the side of their head and the computer would interpret the input and do with the user is asking.

A similar device to that is a sip and puff switch, which is inserted in the mouth and actually interprets the users breathing actions as on or off signals. It is interpreted by the computer in a similar way as the switch device.

There are a couple of devices that have to do with what I mentioned before about severe arthritis or people who don't have too good of a control over their hands. One of them is in an oversized trackball mouse. That's a large device that is stable on a desk and has just one big, huge trackball in the middle and four buttons around it. It's much easier to control than a standard mouse.

Another devices is the adapted keyboard. It looks like a normal keyboard, but it's a little more simplified and adapted for people who lack precise movement in the hand.

There are also a couple other assistive technologies, eye tracking, voice recognition software and other things. But keep in mind that most of these technologies basically will mimic a keyboard, so that's why it's so very important to go through your website, or the website your working with and ensure that you can access everything using a keyboard.

Okay, so that's it for this episode. I just want to let you know I did kind of follow the WebAim assistive technologies page as a guideline for the second half of the episode, but I also did use a couple other resources that I have listed in my podcast entry in the blog, so Web and check it out. There's an Adaptive Technology Resource Center by the University of Toronto, which is pretty good. It discusses some other devices that I didn't mention, alternative keyboards, a mouse, but also some Braille tools, closed circuit television tools and a couple other things. So, check it out!

Thanks again for listening. This is Dennis, signing off. Catch you next time.


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