In today’s age computers, laptops and mobile devices are used for many daily essential tasks . It’s hard to imagine being without one of these modern technologies these days. This is especially true for people living with a sight-related disability or who are blind that use assistive technology to utilize these modern technologies. Assistive technology or AT is defined as anything that assists a person with a disability to access a device or print material.
Screen readers are designed to provide information on a computer, laptop, or mobile device by reading the text using a synthetic voice in place of a user reading it with their eyes. A screen reader enables a user to navigate around their computer using the screen reader software program such as JAWS(Job Access with Speech). For example, a screen reader can provide the following information to a user:
- what page or file is currently open,
- what web page is currently open,
- whether a link has already been clicked on/visited, and
- if text is underlined or bolded.
Screen readers can also be used by those who are both deaf and blind. The text on the screen is converted into Braille characters as it is displayed on a refreshable Braille display device.
Today’s computers, laptops, and mobile devices come with a screen reader program already installed in the devices. On a Windows-based operating system computer, a screen reader program called Narrator, is included. However, its functions are very limited, and can be best described as a screen supporter rather than a full-functional screen reader program. On an Apple Mac computer, Voiceover is included with the device and is considered as a fully-functional screen reader. Apple’s iPhone, iPad and the iPod Touch also include the Voiceover screen reader. The most recent versions of the Android come with a screen reader called TalkBack.
View a video on how screen readers work.
A screen magnifier is designed for people with low vision. It magnifies everything on a computer, laptop or mobile device screen. This results in only part of the original screen image being visible. Screen magnifiers can follow a mouse pointer or cursor on a computer or a finger on a touch screen device. A screen magnifier can also be used as an addition or alternative to a larger screen monitor or enlarged font. Screen Magnification software commonly includes the following features:
- ability to change screen colors,
- enhance mouse pointers or cursors, and
- basic Screen reading functions.
Recent computers, laptops and mobile devices with Windows, Mac OS X or Linux operating systems have some type of screen magnification feature built into them. Today’s smart phones and tablets also include built-in screen magnification settings.
Screen Magnification Software
For people requiring a more comprehensive screen magnifier there are full-featured software programs that come with many options and can reach high levels of magnification. Screen magnification programs are designed to work like a magnifying glass moving over a page. Programs can automatically follow the cursor, magnifying the area around it. It is common to be able to automatically move across and down a magnified page at a preset speed. In an event of losing your place in a magnified document, screen magnification programs can show the unmagnified screen, emphasizing the magnified area with color or shading. Fonts used in magnification programs are usually designed to smooth out the jagged appearance of the computer-produced diagonal or curved lines.
Full-featured screen magnification software such as ZoomText can magnify all screen items, including the mouse pointer, text cursor, icons, buttons, and title bars.
View a video on how screen magnification software programs work.
It is amazing to me as a blind person myself, about the world of opportunities and possibilities that assistive technologies such as screen readers have opened up for people living with a sight-related disability. No longer do I have to rely on others to access information or perform tasks on my laptop. Today, with the help of my screen reader, I am able to help WeCo’s clients make their websites and software applications accessible for all users.
Read the posts in this month’s final week of National Disability Employment and Blindness Awareness Month found in WeCo’s IT Accessibility Information Blog.