In this post I would like to tell you about a few of my favorite items of assistive technology. I have used the following assistive technologies throughout my educational endeavors, and I continue to use most of them in my everyday life. I would advise someone beginning an educational course, or other venture, to research the mentioned technology; to determine what does and doesn’t meet your needs. Also, for residents of Ireland, it may be an idea to contact the NCBI to get further information of the products mentioned below.
iPhone and/or iPad with VoiceOver:
The iPhone is a smart-phone with a touch screen, and the iPad is a tablet computer; both products are manufactured by Apple. . Both mentioned devices happen to be 100% accessible for visually impaired and blind individuals. There are also accessibility features built into the iPad for those with low-vision, hearing impairments, and motion difficulties too. In terms of low-vision, accessibility features include Large Text, Bold Text, Invert Colours, and Zoom. My personal experience is related to VoiceOver, which is the screen reader built-in to the iPad. I am not exaggerating when I say that the iPhone and iPad is accessible right out of the box. VoiceOver can be enabled by triple tapping the home button when either device has been turned on, and the setup can be completed without sighted assistance.
If you would like to hear what VoiceOver sounds like, play the below video. There is some very useful information offered at the beginning of this video for those new to VoiceOver on the iPhone and/or iPad.
All the built-in applications are accessible, and a lot of the most popular apps are accessible too. However, it is completely up to the developer of an app to make it accessible, so there are no guarantees. without any additional apps, you can setup your email, browse the internet, manage your calendar and contacts, and take notes among many other activities.
In addition to VoiceOver, apps are really what make the iPhone and iPad two of my favorite pieces of assistive technology. In future posts I will write about apps I have used and have found to be particularly beneficial. However, if you want to get a feel for what is available right now, you could check out the app directory on Applevis. This link will bring you to the directory, and you can explore the vast number of app entries by category.
If you choose to use an iPhone and/or iPad, I would recommend getting a Bluetooth keyboard. A Bluetooth keyboard is great for taking notes and writing documents with a higher level of accuracy and speed. Using the on-screen/virtual keyboard is fine, but I don’t believe it is feasible to take notes at speed in a lecture type situation at this point. There are many options if you are looking for a Bluetooth keyboard, but Apple makes one and it is quite good; you can read more about this keyboard at this link.
Instead of a Bluetooth keyboard, you could get a cover for your iPad which includes a keyboard. These are great as they are compact and portable, but I have found the keys on the keyboard are a little small and this can lead to more mistakes. I have especially noticed this when I have been taking notes in lectures at a fast speed. This link will bring you to the page offering information about the case and keyboard I have used. This type of case is basically like a book, and the iPad slots in one side and the keyboard is on the other side.
In short, the iPhone and iPad are completely accessible, and I think they are both great pieces of assistive technology.
If you would like to find out more about the iPhone click here, and if you would like to know more about the iPad please click here. To find out more about the accessibility features of the iPhone, iPad, and other Apple products please click here.
Laptop with JAWS/NVDA or MacBook with VoiceOver:
Desktops are brilliant, but I have only ever used laptops for my computing needs. I do think a Laptop or MacBook with your screen reader of choice is pretty much essential. Similar to the iPhone and iPad above, laptops are great as they are so portable. You can choose between two different devices here:
1. A laptop running Microsoft Windows.
2. A MacBook running Macintosh OS.
Windows Laptop and JAWS/NVDA:
A Windows laptop is the most common and cost efficient option, but you do have to consider what additional assistive technology you use. In my case, I had to choose which screen reader I was going to use, and I chose JAWS. While JAWS is a fantastic piece of technology, it is quite costly. As a result I have found that a Windows laptop can sometimes end up being more expensive than first thought. However, NVDA is another screen reader you could choose, and it is completely free. It is recommended that you consider making a donation to support the future development of NVDA. Using NVDA means that a Windows laptop is more cost effective, but you need to consider which screen reader best meets your needs. Further information on both JAWS and NVDA can be found in the ‘Useful Resources’ section.
A Windows laptop will generally run all the applications you will need to complete a task/course. I would advise researching what applications you will be expected to use, in order to assess their accessibility with JAWS and/or NVDA. However, when it comes to the common Microsoft Office applications like Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Outlook; there shouldn’t be a problem at all.
MacBook and VoiceOver:
Like the iPhone and iPad discussed above, a MacBook is accessible right out of the box. The screen reader present on MacBook’s, is the same screen reader as on the iPhone and iPad. Play the below video to hear what VoiceOver sounds like on the MacBook. If you wish, forward the video until you get to 6 minutes in, as there is a pretty long introduction. However, you may want to listen to this as it covers a lot of information.
If you choose to use a MacBook, there will be certain applications you will be unable to use as they are not compatible with the Macintosh OS. The level to which this incompatibility will be a problem will depend on the task/course you are completing. to overcome the inability to use some Windows only applications, you can install Windows on your MacBook. This means you essentially have the best of both worlds on one machine. There are two ways to do this, and they are called VMWare Fusion and BootCamp. I have experience of both methods, and I would have to recommend VMWare Fusion over BootCamp. I don’t want to get too technical here, but do play the below video regarding VMWare Fusion, and visit this link to get a better understanding of running Windows on a MacBook.
The below VMWare Fusion video doesn’t focus on assistive technology, but it should give you an idea of what VMWare Fusion is, and what it can do.
Kurzweil 1000 (K1000) is a fantastic piece of software which can recognize printed characters, and read them via a text to speech synthesizer/naturally sounding voice. K1000 requires a scanner or camera to function. However, you can also convert inaccessible online PDF files. I have found this to be a very beneficial feature of K1000. Some PDF files are not accessible, and using K1000 can be a great way of overcoming this problem. During my Masters, it seemed like every PDF I opened could not be read with JAWS, but a few minutes with K1000 and the PDF was being read to me. I could not have completed my Masters without this software.
K1000 is an example of software which is only available for Windows, and I think it is pretty much essential for someone who is visually impaired or blind and cannot read printed materials. Keep in mind, K1000 can be run on a MacBook if you use the VMWare Fusion or BootCamp methods mentioned above.
Play the following video to get an idea of how K1000 works. The following video is not perfect, and K1000 is normally more accurate, but it does depend on what is being scanned.
I hope the above information is of use to somebody, and if you have any related questions feel free to get in touch via the ‘Contact Me’ section.
In closing, just in case you haven’t made the connection between the title of this post and my interest in musical theatre, you should take a few minutes to play the below video and all will become clear.