The Customer Service Standards of the AODA gives service providers guidelines on making their goods, services, and facilities accessible to customers with disabilities. Some of these services will involve computer accessibility. For instance, service providers need to make their websites accessible. They can do so by ensuring that their webpages are compatible with the hardware and software people use on their personal devices, such as computers or phones. In addition, some organizations, such as libraries, schools, restaurants, or retailers, may have computers or tablets with accessible hardware or software on-site for patrons to use. In this article, we describe some ways that customers with disabilities use technology.
Accessible hardware devices connect to computers or phones and allow people to input and receive information in different ways. People may use different kinds of keyboards, such as one-handed or large-key keyboards. Key guards are frames that fit over a keyboard with a hole for each key. This set-up ensures that users type only one key at a time. The following allows users to type in comfortable positions or change positions when they need to:
- Ergonomic keyboards
- Wrist supports
- Adjustable keyboard trays
- Other positioning devices
Some people use different kinds of pointing devices, instead of traditional mice. Trackballs are larger than traditional mice, and people can operate them with their thumbs, palms, or feet as well as their fingers. Other alternative mice include touch pads or screens, light pens, joysticks, head pointers, or mouth sticks. Some people may also use these devices, or eye-tracking systems, as alternatives for keyboards as well as mice. In contrast, other people may use certain keys on their keyboards to perform tasks usually completed by clicking a mouse.
Large monitors allow people who read large print to access more information at a time. In contrast, Braille displays present the screen’s contents in Braille. People may also print in Braille using Braille embossers.
Accessible software programs also affect how people can input and receive information. On-screen keyboards allow users to type by selecting letters, numbers, or symbols with their pointing devices. Speech recognition software allows users to control the computer or phone with their voices. Predictive software helps users input words by displaying word options they can choose from after they have typed the first few letters.
People may use screen magnification software to enlarge information on their screens, or use screen reader software that reads information aloud.
These types of software are often available through various programs. Many programs are built for different types of computers, such as Windows or Mac. Some programs are built into operating systems or browsers, while others are third-party software that users purchase from companies specializing in accessible hardware and software. Programs sometimes offer different levels of accessibility. For instance, some programs that read aloud read more information than others. Therefore, different people will find certain programs more valuable or necessary than others, depending on what their needs are.
When individuals or organizations want to invest in accessible computer equipment, they should consult people with disabilities. They will be able to advise them about what devices or programs they might find most useful. Moreover, organizations should also consult some venders, who can tell them about other devices and programs that their clientele has not had the chance to work with before but might find useful. Funding may be available to help organizations offset the cost of some equipment.
Finally, organizations must ensure that their staff have training on how to use accessible computers and the hardware and software that goes along with it. Staff may need to troubleshoot if hardware or software malfunction. Moreover, if people are using a device or program for the first time, staff may need to help them learn the basics.
Computer accessibility gives everyone an equal chance to take part in a world that is becoming more and more digital.