2 Disability and Technology

You might think of disability as it relates to an individual person and their specific impairments. However, the social model of disability helps us understand that the source of barriers for people with disabilities actually comes from society and the inaccessible environments it creates. The responsibility to remove barriers for people with disabilities is ours. Our goal is to proactively identify and remove or reduce barriers for people with disabilities.

Accessibility and technology

Something can be considered accessible when it provides equitable access to allow people with disabilities to complete tasks and make choices without judgment, while retaining their autonomy. Digital accessibility, sometimes referred to as a11y (where “11” refers to the number of letters omitted), provides equitable access for people who may need Assistive Technology (AT) or personal accommodation to complete digital tasks. Accommodations may include modifications to the digital material, such as adjustable screen brightness or font size. ATs can include specialized hardware or software that can assist people with disabilities to perceive and interact with digital content. Examples of ATs are provided below.

Accessibility APIs and assistive technologies

Digital devices, including laptops, desktops, tablets, and other mobile devices, have a built-in Accessibility Application Program Interface (API ). APIs effectively serve as a translator or guide between different software components. Software applications use the rules set out in the accessibility API to communicate to Assistive Technologies (ATs) and ensure that the ATs can interpret the information from the software so that it is understandable for the user.

The interaction can be broken down as follows:

  1. Browsers translate web-based applications to an accessibility tree, which speaks to the accessibility API.
  2. The assistive technology receives the data and translates it into an alternate user interface.
  3. The actions of the assistive technology user are translated back through the Accessibility API to complete desired tasks.

Examples of Accessibility Features and Technology

Screen Readers: Screen readers allow people who have difficulty seeing or reading to access information. The screen reader will identify text in a website, app, or document and read it out loud with an electronic voice to the user. Screen readers are Artificial Intelligence (AI) and so they do not intuitively understand what order text should be read in and rely on features like headers and other clues built into documents, websites, and applications for context.

Switches: A switch is a mechanical aid that allows a person with a physical disability to access the features of a keyboard or mouse in an alternative way. There are various types of switches, from tactile buttons, pedals, levers, or breath-activated tubes. Switch controls perform a single action, like the click of a mouse. When a user has access to one switch, software cycles through options on a website, application or virtual keyboard and allows the user to activate the features they want.

Speech-to-Text TechnologySpeech-to-text technology allows users to bypass traditional typing on a keyboard by speaking. The computer or device recognizes what the user has said and translates the spoken words to commands or text (For example, if the user said: “double-click file name”). People with different types of disabilities, including physical disabilities, vision disabilities, or cognitive disabilities, may use speech-to-text applications. This technology is becoming popular with non-disabled people as well because it is a convenient feature that can save time. Many devices, computers, and applications come with built-in speech-to-text technology.




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eCampusOntario's Digital Accessibility Toolkit Copyright © by eCampus Ontario is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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