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How Assistive Technology Works: Video Demonstrations


Understanding how disabled people use the web is a very important step towards becoming aware about web accessibility. This knowledge allows you to understand what sort of technology already exists to support people who might have difficulty accessing or interacting with web content, and helps you appreciate your role as a web content provider. The best experience is of course to watch a disabled person use an assistive technology to browse the Web. This though can be difficult to arrange, for a particular technology at the time you need it though, although you could contact Andy McMahon, the University's ICS Disability Support Specialist for a demonstration.

A good alternative is to watch some of an increasing number of videos available on the web which show people using different assistive technologies. We've found some of the best, and linked to them here, to help you appreciate how different assistive technologies can help people with visual, mobility and cognitive impairments to use the Web.

Note 1: If you have any problems viewing the videos presented here, please read the accessibility of videos section.

Note 2: Each of the videos on this page are hosted by Youtube, and provided by a third party. As such, their availability is beyond the control of the Web Accessibility Service - so let us know if any no longer work. Also, we do not endorse any specific product demonstrated here - if you are a disabled student or member of staff, and would like advice on using assistive technology, please contact Disability Services, who will be happy to help.

Index of videos

  1. Using a Screen Reader (JAWS);
  2. Using a Screen Reader - Window-Eyes;
  3. The impact on Screen Readers of inaccessible web sites;
  4. How fixing accessibility barriers improves access for screen reader users;
  5. Braille display device;
  6. Screen Magnification software;
  7. Alternative input devices and an on-screen keyboard;
  8. Voice recognition software;
  9. A wireless switch device operated by facial muscles.

We'll add to this list whenever we find more videos that are particularly good demonstrations of assistive technology and Web browsing, so if you have any suggestions, please let us know.

Assistive Technologies for people who have no functional vision

For blind and severely visually impaired people, the primary means of accessing the Web is through screen reading software. Examples of screen readers include JAWS, Supernova, HAL, Window-Eyes, NVDA and Orca.

The success with which a screen reader can read out web content in a logical and meaningful way depends on how well the web site has been designed.

  Video 1: Using a Screen Reader - JAWS

Craig Mill, e-Learning Advisor for Accessibility and Inclusion from the JISC Regional Support Centre for Scotland North and East, provides a demonstration of how JAWS, a screen reader, can be used to access and read information on a website.

Produced by JISC Regional Support Centre for Scotland North and East; original YouTube version of Video 1.

  Video 2: Using a Screen Reader - Window-Eyes

In this second example, you can experience what it is like to surf the web with a similar screen reading tool, Window-Eyes.

Produced by Cathy Anne Murtha; original YouTube version of Video 2.

  Video 3: the impact on Screen Readers of inaccessible web sites

The following video, presented by Liz Stover of the University of Arkansas, highlights some examples of how websites not designed with accessibility in mind can be inaccessible to use by screen reader users. The video shows the impact of poorly written links and the lack of a 'skip to main content' link.

Produced by Design For Users; original YouTube version of Video 3.

  Video 4: how fixing accessibility barriers improves access for screen reader users

The following video presents two further examples, both relating to the Amazon UK website. In the first example, the page is inaccessible as the main graphical navigation tabs have been assigned ambiguous numbers rather than meaningful alternatives. The second example demonstrates an improved version of the website in which the tabs have been renamed with far more meaningful alternatives. As a result, navigation is much more effective for people using screen reading software.

Produced by EvolveSW69; original YouTube version of Video 4.

  Video 5: Using a Braille Display device

In this example, Craig Mill from JISC and Lucy Naismith from Humanware introduce a Braille display that enables visually impaired people who can read Braille to access information presented on-screen. These devices work with screen readers to provide a dual sensory (audio and tactile) presentation of web content.

Produced by JISC Regional Support Centre for Scotland North and East; original YouTube version of Video 5.

Technologies for people with impaired vision

Not all visually impaired people need to rely on screen reading software. For example, screen magnification software or hardware can augment screen reading software, or even be sufficent on its own, to allow someone with low vision to read content on a web page.

  Video 6: Screen Magnification Software

In the following example, Professor Megan Conway of the University of Hawaii demonstrates screen magnification software used by people with low vision.

Produced by Pacific Voices; original YouTube version of Video 6.

Mobility Impairments

Some people may have great difficulty using, or be unable to use a standard mouse or a keyboard. This might be due to a severe physical disability caused by paralysis, palsy or loss of a limb, or a more moderate impairment that affects manual dexterity - for example arthritis, or repetitive strain injury. A mouse is also no use for anyone with a severe visual impairment, who can't see the pointer on screen. However, a range of assistive and alternative input devices exist to help people control their computer, ranging from keyguards and trackballs to switching devices, foot-operated mice, sip-and-puff devices, head pointers, gesture recognition and voice recognition technology.

  Video 7: Alternative input devices

In the following example, Giesbert Nijhuis uses a range of devices all controlled using the head, including a head mouse and sip-and-puff device, along with an on-screen keyboard, as input devices to operate a range of software.

Produced by AssistiveWare; original YouTube version of Video 7.

  Video 8: Voice Recognition software

This example highlights Nicola's experiences of using voice recognition software instead of the mouse to navigate through various websites. She outlines some of the difficulties she experiences when using the technology.

Produced by AbilityNet; original YouTube version of Video 8.

  Video 9: A wireless switch device operated by facial muscle activity

This example demonstrates how someone with severely limited movement can use a wireless switch device - an assistive technology operated by facial muscle movement. The switch device is placed on the forehead, and detects muscle movements, turning these into signals which are transmitted wirelessly to the computer, via Bluetooth. [Ref. 9].

Produced by Ablenetic; original YouTube version of Video 9.

More information

Dotjay's Assistive Technology Video Tour: For a comprehensive list of video demonstrations relating to accessibility and assistive technology, Jon Gibbins (Dotjay) has put together this very useful list of videos.

The YouTube channels for Accessify and AbilityNet contain many more videos on the theme of accessibility.

You can also read more about how disabled people use assistive technology to browse the Web from:

Accessibility of Videos

We are aware that YouTube currently has numerous accessibility problems which may prevent certain users from accessing the videos. Firstly, the default Youtube player itself is not keyboard accessible.

If you need to play the videos in a keyboard accessible player, you may like to try Easy Youtube, which has an interface fully accessible through the keyboard alone. To play the videos in Easy Youtube, you will need to copy and paste the link to the video into the Easy Youtube address box, as given in the full references above.

Additionally, as these videos are provided by third parties, we are unable to provide captions fdor those that don't already include captions.

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