Testing for Accessibility

Sometimes people wonder how people with disabilities access technology (for instance, how does someone who’s blind use the computer). The answer is usually using specialized technology called “assistive technology” (AT) – though I find that these technologies are often useful for everyone.

Here’s a summary of some popular technologies I used while testing.

Assistive Technology Description Primarily Used By
Screen Reader
  • Software that accesses and reads aloud the information visually seen on-screen
  • Used with keyboard only; uses combination of built-in keyboard features and custom commands
  • Allows users to shortcut/skim through page elements like Headings as would someone sighted
  • Popular software: JAWS (Windows), NVDA (Windows), VoiceOver (Mac)
  • Tip for Macbook Users: Press Command+F5 to invoke (and close) VoiceOver (Apple’s built-in screen reader)

Persons with vision or print impairments
Speech Recognition
  • Software that responds to voice commands
  • Allows users to simulate using a keyboard and mouse by using their voice
  • Popular software: Dragon NaturallySpeaking
  • Note: Dragon isn’t often thought of as assistive technology but by using commercialized products the cost is much lower for users

Persons with vision or mobility impairments
Screen Magnifier
  • Software that changes the size and color scheme of displays (such as large print or blue background with yellow text)
  • This overrides what the designer/developer has programmed for the scheme
  • Popular software: ZoomText

Persons with vision impairments
The Keyboard
  • Not really an assistive technology but is fundamental to using AT on the computer
  • Substitute for the mouse (which requires vision and fine motor skills)
  • Can be customized such as with Sticky Keys (which disables the need to press keys simultaneously)
  • Tip/Challenge for all users: When moving to another page on this site, press <Tab> to navigate to the link and press <Enter> to open it (rather than using the mouse)


Other Resources

Web Accessibility: WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind), SSB BART Group’s Web Accessibility Site

Accessibility Standards: Section 508, WCAG, ADA

Research Community: ACM SIGACCESS