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Low-Tech and High-Tech Access to Computers

Most of us agree that computers, if integrated appropriately, improve productivity and increase professionalism for all employees. Perhaps what is less obvious are the many tools and strategies, both low-tech and high-tech, that are needed to support access to computers for personnel who have disabilities. There are several hurdles to accessing computers that are easy to take for granted. Most of us don't have any trouble seeing the icons on a desktop, reaching the on/off button, manipulating the keyboard, or hearing some of the auditory prompts made by a computer. But for those employees who do have difficulty in these areas, such hurdles minimizes their ability to be independent and productive; and if unaccounted for, they can completely bars access to learning and work.

Here are some strategies that promote access and independence for all members of your organization. Some strategies fall in the category of universal design; that is, they are useful to a broad range of users. Other strategies refer to assistive technology or technologies that support access in a unique situation, where it is typically useful for only one person. The strategies also represent a range of functionality (e.g., visual, auditory, and physical).

On a cautionary note, to ensure the holistic adoption of effective accommodations, it is important to look beyond the individual's disability; for example, an individual who has a vision impairment may equally benefit from an accommodation that facilitates physical access.

Accommodations for Vision Impairments

Universal Design Strategies:

  • Use features embedded in the operating systems' control panel, that allow changes in contrast, screen resolutions, auditory alerts, and font size and color; as well as the speed, size, color of the cursor and I-beam
  • Move the computer to eliminate sources of glare or add a non-glare screen to the monitor
  • Use a large screen monitor
  • Supply a moveable mounting arm for the monitor to adjust for distance from user
  • Use stickers for the keyboard that enlarge and/or increase contrast for each key
  • Provide Braille stickers or tactile markers for the keyboard and other control buttons
  • Utilize integrated system or freeware Text-to-Speech tools (e.g., SimpleText, HearIt, ReadPLEASE, Clip & Talk)
  • Provide headphones to ensure privacy

Assistive Technology Tools:

  • If the system software does not allow for enlarging screen size, use screen-enlarging software
  • Provide screen reading software and a scanner for user with low-vision or blindness
  • Braille users should be provided with devices such as Braille note taking systems that link to the computer (which also acts as a refreshable Braille display) and a Braille

Accommodations for Auditory Impairment

Universal Design Strategies:

  • Use features embedded in the operating system's control panel that allow changes in alerts (flashing alerts, rather than auditory only)
  • Consider purchasing software that can provide auditory information in a visual or text format

Assistive Technology Tool:

  • Utilize assistive listening devices (amplification system) so the employee can hear what is being said by their co-workers or clients

Accommodations for Physical Impairments

Universal Design Strategies:

  • Use the control panel to make for changes in keyboard and mouse controls, and use macros (key sequences memorized by the computer) to minimize key strokes
  • Leverage existing software features that allow for adjustable response times
  • Provide adjustable height workstations with adjustable keyboard trays large enough to accommodate a mouse
  • Provide an alternate mouse (trackball or joystick)
  • Use non-skid shelf liner under the keyboard and trackball to promote stability
  • Set computer to be turned on from the keyboard

Assistive Technology Tools:

  • Word prediction software can minimize keystrokes as well as provide additional support to employees who have learning disabilities, limited language skills, and to those for whom English is a second language
  • Voice activated software can provide a hands-free way for employees to input text or navigate a computer; this kind of tool is particularly helpful for people with dysgraphia or other severe motor impairments such as repetitive strain injury and arthritis
  • Single switch hardware and software offers hands-free navigation and input into a computer