The Usefulness Of Assistive Computer Technology

When Apple introduced Siri on the iPhone and iPad, the world was introduced to a whole new host of useful options like voice commands, automation, and dictation. For the average person, this was a nice convenient feature; but for those in need of assistive technology, it could make otherwise difficult tasks much easier.

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While most likely created to just be a very useful tool, Siri can be considered an assistive technology, a type of tool or device that helps those with limited hearing, vision, mobility, or another special need. Siri is specific to Apple devices however it is one of many assistive technologies available for those who require greater accessibility options when using computers, tablets, or phones.

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In addition to Siri, Apple has made several assistive technologies and customization options standard in its operating system – from the simple, like choosing higher-contrast color combinations, to the more complex, like a sophisticated text-to-speech tool. Below are some of the tools available on Apple products.

  • Voice Over is a screen reader that comes standard with every Mac but it’s more than a text-to-speech tool. This tool allows the user to fully interact with the computer, using gestures, a keyboard, or a braille display. Voice Over speaks via Alex, the naturally-toned voice of Mac.
  • Zoom is a built-in magnifier which allows the user to enlarge see the screen better by magnifying the display up to 20 times its original size. This tool can be used in two ways: Either full screen or picture-in-picture – focusing the zoomed area in a separate window while keeping the rest of the screen at its native size.
  • Dictation, as the name suggests, lets users talk where they would normally type. Similar to Siri, users can reply to email messages, search the internet, or even dictate in documents using just their voice.
  • Inverting Colors is a simple way to allow for better on-screen comprehension and recognition, because a higher contrast helps users better see what’s on the display. Other options include increasing and decreasing contrast or switching to display to gray scale. Once colors are determined, settings apply system-wide, allowing for a uniform experience in every app and program.

Microsoft products offer similar options in many of their products, through its Ease of Access Center. Centrally located on Microsoft computers, this file allows users to set up the accessibility settings and programs available in Windows. In the center, users can also access a questionnaire which can help determine further settings to make Windows programs easier to use. Programs to assist in accessibility on Microsoft machines are similar to those of Apple: Speech Recognition, Narrator, and high-contrast and customizable display settings. Another feature is Filter Keys, which can, in essence, steady a user’s hand by ignoring brief or repeated keystrokes made accidentally (as in the case of a tremulous or shaky hand).

The Ease of Access Center located in Microsoft products is one of many tools available to users – Microsoft also has a database of information and tutorials online, dedicated to specific operating systems such as Windows XP, and programs like Office and Internet Explorer, as well as PDF entitled, A Guide to Transitioning to Windows 7 for People with Disabilities.

As computers become increasingly easy to use, accessible technologies will continue to improve, making it easier for people of all abilities to communicate.