There are over 1 billion people worldwide who struggle with sensory and cognitive disabilities. Independent of the provisions in the Assistive Technology Act of 2004, companies strive to be leaders in the production and distribution of assistive technology in computers. With the highest standards as guidelines, Apple leads the industry in a wide range of products dedicated to assistive technology.
Assistive, adaptive or rehabilitative technology helps to bridge gaps in the ease-of-use technology in persons with disabilities. These programs and services promote independence and empower those with challenges to perform tasks which were formerly more difficult. Such services, available on PC’s and Mac computers, as well as independent software and devices, provide enhancements to or alter the manner in which users accomplish tasks on a computer or smartphone.
These software programs and assistive devices typically fall into one of three categories, which include listening and speaking, reading and spelling, or writing and organizational technology. Many software programs are available for both computers, and all features attempt to accommodate for challenges users face, as well as increase aptitude and confidence on computers.
Most essential tools are available built directly into computers and phones today. Those with sensory disabilities claim appreciation for devices such as the iPhone, because while it looks no different than a traditionally cognitive individual’s phone, there are a wealth of services built in as well as independent apps that make communication and functioning easier and even fun. A person can activate accessibility on their iPhone by visiting Settings>General>Accessibility for vision, hearing and learning cues.
Some of the services that make Apple the industry leader in assistive technology are enumerated below, and can be accessed using the System Preferences Pane>System>Universal Access.
- VoiceOver is a screen reader and text-to-speech tool that tells users what’s happening on screen and allows individuals to use gestures, a keyboard or braille display to input data.
- Zoom, a magnifier, allows users to enlarge screens up to 20 times, has a full screen or picture-in-picture feature, and allows different exploded views to be seen independent of the primary screen.
- Dictation allows users to speak text, enabling the disabled to message, search or write using voice commands and speech that is converted into text.
- Braille Displays for OSX supports over 40 braille displays right out of the box, requiring no additional downloads or purchases.
- iMessages allows for unlimited messages to be sent across devices using a single account for phone, computer and mobile devices. Face Time allows for video chat for those who lip read.
- Screen Flash alerts users who are hard of hearing or deaf to a minimized app that requires attention, rather than an auditory alert.
- Users with motor skill impairment can use Switch Control to toggle menus, dock and onscreen keyboards using a switch, joystick, Apple track pad, or space bar.
- Slow and Sticky keys adjusts keyboard sensitivity and implements measures to ensure that buttons being pressed and commands being activated were intentionally selected.
- Speakable Items control actions and commands by the user’s voice.
- Mouse Keys transform a 10-key type pad into a mouse, allowing users who have difficulty using a mouse or track pad to easily drag items and navigate windows.
- Onscreen Keyboard uses a Keyboard viewer in OSX that can be used to type onto the desktop rather than on a traditional keyboard. Using a mouse, disabled persons click on letters rather than typing them to select.
- Simple Finder, for users with cognitive or learning disabilities, simplifies a Mac’s dock to three folders, and condenses tools to a list of pre-determined apps to keep students on track and focused.
- Dictionary and Word Completion help with vocabulary and spelling skills, offering a dictionary accessible anywhere in OSX, and building vocabulary as well as streamlining writing projects by suggesting words as users type.
- Use Text to Speech to highlight a phrase and have Mac’s OSX voice personality read that passage aloud, choosing from over 20 different languages.
In addition to these services, some outstanding technologies for computer users who benefit from peripheral utilities include the following:
- App Store items bearing a CC, as well as built-in computer apps such as Quicktime, DVD Player and iTunes, offer closed captioning within apps.
- Dragon Dictate translates speech into text, helping vision-impaired users create large amounts of data with relative ease.
- Purple and Purple Mail, a video-based message system, allows users to record, send and receive messages in American Sign Language on a PC, Mac, iPhone or Android device. Certified video interpreters at Purple help translate ASL and spoken language to help individuals who are deaf communicate more efficiently with the hearing.
- AfterShokz, wireless headphones that utilize bone conduction to relay sound through the bones of the skull, can be used by people with certain types of hearing loss. These headphones use the same technology that has recently made headlines as part of the cutting edge audio for the upcoming Google Glass. These headphones are favored by blind users because, unlike traditional headphones, bone conductors do not stifle audio input from surroundings.
- Fiesky, a recently released app for cell phone users, holds appeal for those without sensory disabilities. This alternative keyboard, available free on iOS devices, will be available as a replacement keyboard following the iOS 8 update in fall 2014. It speeds up typing with auto-correct and its gesture-based interface. Users can type text without a very high degree of accuracy, and Fiesky will select the most commonly used words regardless of how well users spelled them. This app has the potential to save time by minimizing spelling errors attributed to compromised motor skills. Fiesky users swipe left to delete words, and to the right to add a space or period.
- Google’s accessibility overview offers a look at features that the developer has designated to help blind/low-vision users, as well those who are deaf and hard-of-hearing. Google suggests on the site that services, products and even phones and operating systems are often designed with the consideration for the sight and hearing impaired in mind across platforms, not just by Google, but by all purveyors of technology .
Apple’s commitment to creating an environment in which users feel empowered and as catered to as traditionally abled users has helped the computer giant remain a leader in the industry of assistive technology. If the past is any indicator, Apple will continue to develop and share technologies that encourage ease of ingress with the upcoming release of the Yosemite OS (iOS8), due out later this year.
By Mariah Beckman