Computer systems as a rule are very badly designed. You don't have to have low vision to be annoyed at small type on a system desktop. The logic of mouse use—such as the exact rules of when to click and when to double-click—can be equally obtuse to people with and without cognitive disabilities. And standard keyboard design can not only thwart individuals with existing hand problems, it can actually promote development of painful repetitive strain injuries.
Universal design is the practice of creating products and environments that can be used by as many people as possible, including people with varying physical and cognitive capabilities. However, until universal design becomes ubiquitous, assistive technologies are necessary to provide adaptations or alternatives so that people with disabilities can use the same technologies as their peers. At the University of Michigan, that’s where the Knox Center comes in.
The Knox Center (1128 Shapiro Library) has several types of assistive software and hardware, including the following:
- JAWS is a screen reader that allows blind users to access Windows computers using audio output and keyboard commands.
- MAGic provides options that make text and cursors easier to see for Windows users.
- Three programs—Kurzweil 3000, WYNN, and Read & Write Gold—have tools to facilitate reading, writing, and note taking. Kurzweil 3000 is on both the Windows and Mac computers; the other two programs are on a Windows computer.
- NaturalReader reads and highlights text on one of the Macintosh computers.
- Dragon NaturallySpeaking for Windows allows users to dictate text, as well as perform mouse functions via spoken commands.
- Three closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs) enlarge text, handwork or anything placed under their cameras.
- The Reading Edge scans good-quality printed materials and can read the text aloud immediately or save it for later retrieval. It does not connect to a computer.
The Knox Center is open during the same hours as the Shapiro Library, on a first-come-first-served basis. Users who will be using audio output technology or Dragon will need to bring their own headphones.
It’s now possible to also access assistive options throughout the campus. Thanks to Steve Sarrica and the Sites team, JAWS, MAGic, and Kurzweil 3000 are now available on all Sites-maintained public Windows computers. This includes computer labs in residence halls, libraries, and most academic departments. In addition, all Windows and Macintosh computers have some built-in features that facilitate accessibility. A Windows video tutorial is available, and a Mac tutorial will be available shortly.
While assistive software can be powerful, it is dependent on mainstream programs and websites that are designed according to certain standards. If these standards are not met, the assistive software may not be able to convey information or allow interactive items such as buttons and links to be activated. Google Docs is an example of a web-based program that does not meet these standards; in particular, it poses access barriers for people who use JAWS and Dragon. At this time, U-M is recommending that faculty use or permit use of CTools, Microsoft Word, or other, more accessible alternatives to Docs in any classes where one or more students may be using assistive technologies.
So that assistive technology users can make the most of all Google Apps, the M+Google website has an accessibility section that provides information on known issues and work-arounds. This section includes information on keyboard shortcuts, browser add-ons, and other mitigations. During the first part of fall semester, drop-in sessions are scheduled to provide one-on-one assistance with any accessibility-related questions.
The Knox Center is overseen by me, as U-M’s Assistive Technology Lead. Anyone is welcome to set up an appointment with me to learn about and try out assistive technologies; either by e-mail or phone (734-936-3794).
About the Author
Jane Vincent, Assistive Technology Lead, Information Technology Services
Published in: Resources and Events