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A variety of mobile devices showing all sorts of apps

Users with mobility disabilities access computers and mobile phones in an array of ways. These users include people who use wheelchairs, people with limited manual dexterity, and those with limited reach and strength. It is important to note that the baby boomer generation is starting to show age-related disabilities, including but not limited to arthritis, which can make it quite difficult and painful for them to use technology.

Today, I’ll offer an introduction to the ways these users access technology, and in future articles I will go into more depth on some of these technologies. To begin, we’ll focus on computer access, and in the next two articles we’ll delve into mobile phone access on iOS and Android platforms.

Users with mobility disabilities use assistive technologies to access computers and mobile phones. For example:

  • Alternative keyboards, including larger keyboards, one-handed keyboards, and Bluetooth keyboards.
  • The Sticky Keys feature helps users that cannot hold down two keys at once (e.g., to press Ctrl-Alt-Del).
  • Alternative mouse inputs are also available: trackballs, touchpads, and more.
  • Switches allow users to operate their computer or mobile phones with one or two switches (or buttons) that can be placed wherever a user needs. If a user can control one body part (e.g., hand, foot, head), they can operate a switch.
  • Eye tracking technology is also available, allowing users to move the mouse and click with only the use of their eyes.
  • Wheelchair joysticks can also be used as a switch or mouse to operate a computer or mobile phone. Some wheelchairs are operated with sip and puff technology, which also can be used as a switch.

Many of these assistive technologies are low cost and qualify as nominal cost under the CVAA standards.

Many of these assistive technologies can be used with standard computer technologies. The Windows On-Screen Keyboard can be used with one key/switch to cycle through the keyboard or with the use of the mouse. With a wide array of keyboards, mice, and switches, the Windows On-Screen Keyboard is a versatile tool. Apple computers have MacOS Switch Control, which has an on-screen keyboard in addition to a pointer that can be used to simulate a mouse click through crosshairs by selecting the vertical and horizontal positions.

Speech recognition is also a popular tool for people with mobility disabilities. Dragon NaturallySpeaking is the leading speech recognition software. Most people know that speech recognition can be used to dictate text. Dragon NaturallySpeaking also has the capability to navigate through websites and applications. For example, a user can say “activate Submit” to submit a form. A mouse grid is also available to simulate a mouse click on the screen if the website/application doesn’t recognize the direct navigation command.

When performing accessibility testing, it is important to test with a wide variety of assistive technologies. Why test using tools used with limited manual dexterity or limited mobility? These users experience different challenges then other disability groups, so testing with these tools provides information about real-world experiences and challenges these users experience. Furthermore, testing with these tools helps identify input methods that are not well-supported for controlling the app or data entry.

Many accessibility laws have functional standards and testing with these tools helps your organization’s websites or apps meet these requirements. These laws include Section 508 (subpart C), CVAA/Advanced Communications Services (performance objectives) and Section 255 of the Telecom Act. While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has no hard technical or functional requirements for software, even without specific requirements, many ADA settlements and consent decrees have required the defendant to make their websites and mobile apps accessible so functional testing lowers and mitigates the risk of an organization.

This is the first post in a three-part series on Computer and Mobile Phone Access for People with Mobility Disabilities. Please follow this link for the second, “Assistive Technology for Users with Mobility Disabilities: iOS Switch Control.”