Making sure a website is accessible often means ensuring it works well with assistive technology.

From a web development perspective, this means writing code to help the website perform with, and be understood by, different types of assistive technology software. The advantage to you is that this also helps with future developments in apps, artificial intelligence (AI) and home hubs.

What is assistive technology?

Assistive technology is an item, piece of equipment, software programme or product that is used to maintain, or enhance the functional capabilities of people with disabilities. This can be anything from low-tech communication boards made from felt to high-tech special-purpose computers and AI.

Assistive technology helps people who have difficulty with their mobility, speaking, typing, writing, remembering, pointing, seeing or hearing and many other things. Different disabilities require different assistive technologies but everybody uses something assistive in their daily routine.

The following examples are assistive technologies that people with disabilities may use to access websites, and which website developers should be considering.

Screen readers

Software that is used by blind or visually impaired people to read the content on the screen, allowing the user to navigate. Examples of screen reading software include JAWS for Windows, NVDA or Voiceover for Mac.  

Screen magnification software

Allows users to control the size of text and graphics on the screen. Unlike using the zoom feature, these applications allow the user to have the ability to see the enlarged text in relation to the screen. It emulates a magnifying glass over the screen. 

Text readers

Software used by people with various forms of learning disability that affects their ability to read text. Using a synthesised voice, the software reads the text aloud, emphasising words being spoken. Text readers do not read menu items however, they only read text.  

Speech input software

When people find typing difficult due to low mobility, users can command the computer to replicate mouse actions. The software will detect links and number them, meaning clicking a link is as simple commanding the computer to “click link 4”. The popular piece of software is called Dragon Naturally Speaking for Windows or Mac. Both operating systems do have speech recognition utilities but cannot be used to browse the web.  

Alternative assistive technology

Some users may not be able to effectively use a keyboard or mouse combination, so have to use different forms of input in order to navigate.

Head pointers

A stick or object mounted directly on a user’s head that can be used to push keys on a keyboard.

Motion/eye tracking

This tracks movement in the retina or another part of the body and will interpret this to direct where the user wants the mouse to go.

Single switch entry assistive technology devices

These are used with on-screen keyboards where a cursor automatically moves through the keys and a user will click a switch when the key they require is highlighted. This can also work on a website, where a cursor will move over all of the links and the user clicks when they want to select a link.