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Assistive Electronic Devices and Software

  • Revised/Updated: 2019/04/04
  • Synopsis : Reviews of assistive computer devices including mobile handheld and PC software aids for persons with disabilities.

Main Document

What is Assistive or Adaptive Computer Technology?

Assistive Computer Technology is any piece of equipment that is customized to make life easier for a person who has a disability.

Computer Software Accessibility:

In human-computer interaction, computer accessibility (also known as accessible computing) refers to the accessibility of a computer system to all people, regardless of disability or severity of impairment, examples include web accessibility guidelines.


Photo of a busy accessible desktop workspace with a MacBook, an iMac, an iPhone and a drawing tablet - Photo by Domenico Loia on Unsplash.
Photo of a busy accessible desktop workspace with a MacBook, an iMac, an iPhone and a drawing tablet - Photo by Domenico Loia on Unsplash.

Many people with disabilities face a variety of challenges in terms of providing computer input, interpreting output and reading documentation. For persons with disabilities, the keyboard, mouse, and monitor are of prime concern so adaptive hardware and software have been developed to provide alternatives. The personal computer (PC) can be the backbone of independence for millions of individuals with sensory, physical, and learning disabilities.

Screen reader programs such as JAWS or HAL are designed to allow even totally blind people to use the computer. They convert the text and icons to speech so one can use a computer without needing to see the monitor.

Accessible computer equipment and PC access aids can make it easier for computer users to use word processing programs, surf the Internet, and send email, but they can also help non-computer users handle many non-computer tasks.

Any system that aids individuals who are not independent verbal communicators is known as an augmentative communication system. The system can include speech, gestures, sign language, symbols, synthesized speech, dedicated communication aids or microcomputers.

Examples of Assistive Computer Technology Include:

  • Optical character recognition (OCR) software systems are used to scan printed materials directly into the PC to accommodate many types of disabilities.
  • Screen readers are software programs that provide either speech or Braille output, and are commonly employed by persons who are blind or visually impaired.
  • Non-assistive computer programs like electronic mail and instant messaging empower individuals with hearing-related impairments to communicate over the Internet.
  • Magnification software enlarges text and graphics displayed on PC monitors. Magnification programs are widely used by persons with poor vision or who have difficulty reading.

Common Keyboard Input Modifications Include:

Voice recognition and dictation systems are powerful assistive technologies that allow persons with disabilities to control a computer and dictate documents verbally using spoken commands.

Most computer vendors support persons with disabilities by incorporating accessibility utilities into operating systems such as Microsoft Windows, Apple Macintosh, and UNIX. PCs equipped with assistive technology permit individuals to function independently at school, work, and home, and allow access to great quantities of information from diverse sources such as compact disks, networks, electronic mail, instant messaging, the World Wide Web, and other Internet resources.

Facts Regarding Assistive Technology Electronic Devices

Assistive technology may attempt to improve the ergonomics of the devices themselves such as Dvorak and other alternative keyboard layouts, which offer more ergonomic layouts of the keys. Assistive technology devices have been created to enable people with disabilities to use modern touch screen mobile computers such as the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. The Pererro is a plug and play adapter for iOS devices which uses the built in Apple VoiceOver feature in combination with a basic switch. This brings touch screen technology to those who were previously unable to use it.

Alternative input devices allow individuals to control their computers through means other than a standard keyboard or pointing device. Examples include:

  • Sip-and-puff systems - activated by inhaling or exhaling.
  • Joysticks - manipulated by hand, feet, chin, etc. and used to control the cursor on screen.
  • Trackballs - movable balls on top of a base that can be used to move the cursor on screen.
  • Wands and sticks - worn on the head, held in the mouth or strapped to the chin and used to press keys on the keyboard
  • Alternative keyboards - featuring larger- or smaller-than-standard keys or keyboards, alternative key configurations, and keyboards for use with one hand.
  • Electronic pointing devices - used to control the cursor on the screen without use of hands. Devices used include ultrasound, infrared beams, eye movements, nerve signals, or brain waves.
  • Touch screens - allow direct selection or activation of the computer by touching the screen, making it easier to select an option directly rather than through a mouse movement or keyboard. Touch screens are either built into the computer monitor or can be added onto a computer monitor.


Legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act in the United States and the Disabilities Discrimination Act in the United Kingdom is fostering the development of assistive technology for persons with disabilities. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act in the United States is helping to make the World Wide Web more accessible as well.

Before a person can use a computer, they need to get within effective proximity of the workstation.

Aisles, doorways, and building entrances must be wheelchair-accessible. Other resources, such as telephones, restrooms, and reference areas, should be accessible as well. Don't overlook a simple barrier, such as a single step or a narrow doorway. Work with architectural accessibility experts to also ensure physical accessibility to equipment.



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