Assistive Technology for Computers & Printed Material

Kenneth S. Pope, Ph.D., ABPP

Links to software and hardware resources:

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I gathered the descriptions and links in this section of the Accessibility & Disability web site to help people find assistive software and hardware for working with computers or printed materials.

Some of this assistive technology includes screen readers, talking web browsers, printed text readers, braille translators (text-to-braille and braille-to-text), screen magnifiers, special computer keyboards, and technology that allows control of a computer through head movements or eye movements.

PurpleMail

PurpleMail is "a video-based message system that allows you to record a personal ASL outgoing message, receive messages in ASL and leave messages for other Purple VRS users in ASL. With PurpleMail, you can: Watch and share your PurpleMail messages on your PC, Mac®, Android™ device, iPhone®, iPod touch® and iPad®."

Panopreter Text to Speech Software

"Using our screen reader software programs, you can not only listen to the natural-sounding human voice speech on the computer, but also convert written text into spoken audio files in wav and mp3 formats for listening later at your convenience.  Panopreter Plus reads any text aloud and reads files in formats of txt, rtf, doc, pdf and web pages. It also converts the text into wav and mp3 audio files, so you can later listen to the vocal speech with a portable mp3 player device. Furthermore, it reads text copied to clipboard from any other software window. It supports many languages and voices."

JAWS for Windows

JAWS--an acronym for "Jobs Access With Speech"--is the most widely-used screen-reader. It has versions that work with Windows 95, 98, ME, 2000, XP, Vista, Windows 7, & Windows 8. It uses a software speech synthesizer, "Eloquence for JAWS," that can pronounce American English, Brazilian Portuguese, British English, Castilian Spanish, Latin American Spanish, Finnish, French, German, and Italian.

Apple's Mac, iPhone, iPad, & iPod

"Apple includes assistive technology in its products as standard features — at no additional cost. For example, iPhone, iPad, iPod, and OS X include screen magnification and VoiceOver, a screen-access technology, for the blind and visually impaired. To assist those with cognitive and learning disabilities, every Mac includes an alternative, simplified user interface that rewards exploration and learning. And, for those who find it difficult to use a mouse, every Mac computer includes Mouse Keys, Slow Keys, and Sticky Keys, which adapt the computer to the user's needs and capabilities.... Every new Mac includes an advanced, full-featured screen-access technology that makes it possible for those who are blind or have low vision to control their computer. It's called VoiceOver and it's built into the OS X operating system, so it's preinstalled and ready to use right out of the box. VoiceOver is much more than simply a text-to-speech tool. It uses speech to describe what is happening on your computer, and you can use it to control the computer without seeing the screen.... VoiceOver is the first screen reader to provide true plug-and-play support for braille displays. It includes software drivers for over 40 USB and wireless braille displays, so they start working instantly when you connect them. But that's not all. Through a unique feature called braille mirroring, VoiceOver is the only screen reader that supports more than one braille device at a time — up to 32 braille displays connected simultaneously to the same computer. This enables you to share what you're working on with others who read braille, just as sighted users can share their computer screen using a video projector.... Purple Video Relay Services."

Window-Eyes Professional

Window-Eyes, another widely-used screen-reader, has versions that work with Windows 95, 98, ME, 2000, XP, Vista, Windows 7, & Windows 8. It supports multiple users, over 50 speech synthesizers, and over 40 Braille displays.

Celery Two-Way Printing Mailbox for Seniors

"Send and receive email through without a computer or Internet access. Send handwritten email by writing a nickname at the top of a message. Press 'B' then 'C' and Celery converts it to email and sends it to the recipient. Receive printed email and image attachments in real-time, just like a fax. Share notes, photos, drawings by email when you can't use your computer."

Google Accessible Web Search for the Visually Impaired

Google search with an audio component.

WebAnyWhere

"WebAnywhere is a web-based screen reader for the web. It requires no special software to be installed on the client machine and, therefore, enables blind people to access the web from any computer they happen to have access to that has a sound card.... WebAnywhere will run on any machine, even heavily locked-down public terminals, regardless of what operating system it is running and regardless of what browsers are installed."

Orca

"Orca is a free, open source scriptable screen reader. Using various combinations of speech, braille, and magnification, Orca helps provide access to applications and toolkits that support the AT-SPI (e.g., the GNOME desktop). The development of Orca has been led by the Accessibility Program Office of Sun Microsystems, Inc. with contributions from many community members."

Braillant

"This new generation of Brailliant braille displays features the excellent, sharp and crisp braille cell technology…. Light, compact, portable, yet sturdy and durable, this new display ergonomically fits in front of your laptop or desktop keyboard, and can be used with your preferred mobile devices….USB 2.0 and Bluetooth V2.1"

Vocal-Eyes

The major feature of Vocal-Eyes is that it is MS-DOS compatible. The default setting requires between 50K and 64K of DOS RAM. However, it only requires about 4K of DOS RAM if it is loaded into extended memory. Vocal-Eyes requires a high density 3.5 inch disk drive.

Books-To-Burn

Books-To-Burn is a text- to-speech file for making books on CD on an Apple computer. "Books2burn translates text files into a series of audio files (Apple AIFF format) which can then be converted to mp3's or other formats using programs like LAME, iTunes, or other tools available around the net. The program is released under the GNU GPL. Feel free to copy and modify the program."

Emacspeak Complete Audio Desktop--Bubbles, StarDog, LuckyDog, TweetDog, SocialDog, AbleDog, WorkDog, GoodDog, HappyDog, CleverDog, SmartDog, TopDog, YellowLab, Aster, WonderDog, BlackLab, BlackDog, Illinois, etc.

"Emacspeak provides complete eyes-free access to daily computing tasks. By providing fluent spoken access to local and remote electronic information, the system opens up the wealth of information available on the Internet to visually impaired users.... Emacspeak introduces several improvements and innovations when compared with screenreaders designed to allow blind users to interact with personal computers. Unlike screenreaders that speak the contents of a visual display, Emacspeak speaks the underlying information. As an example, using a calendar application with a screenreader results in the blind user hearing a sequence of meaningless numbers; In contrast, Emacspeak speaks the relevant date in an easy to comprehend manner. The system deploys the innovative technique of audio formatting to increase the band-width of aural communication; changes in voice characteristic and inflection combined with appropriate use of non-speech auditory icons are used throughout the user interface to create the equivalent of spatial layout, fonts, and graphical icons so important in the visual interface. This provides rich contextual feedback and shifts some of the burden of listening from the cognitive to the perceptual domain. Finally, Emacspeak like Linux is completely free; in contrast, commercially available screenreaders typically double the cost of a personal computer. These innovations have together resulted in the system significantly increasing the ability of visually impaired individuals throughout the world to more effectively use information technology for work and leisure."

e-Speaking Voice and Speech Recognition

"An easy software solution to enable you to control your computer, dictate emails and letters, and have the computer read documents back to you.... Command and control your Window's computer through your voice. Operate your computer using a minimum of keystrokes or mouse clicks. If you want to move the cursor down one line, simply say: Down One. Want to check your emails? Simply say: Open Email.... It's Free! That's right. You can download it with over 100 built-in commands and begin using it today and forever at no cost."

Lynx 2.8.7

Lynx, perhaps the most popular text-mode browser, is free (under the GNU Public License).It works on diverse platforms including MacIntosh (MacLynx), Windows, DOS, UNIX, and VMS. It works especially well with voice-synthesizers and Braille-based technology.

Proloquo 2.0 with speech to iPod-ready iTunes tracks and quick voice access

"Proloquo is a multilingual speech and communication solution for Mac OS X that provides: (1) a full-fledged communication system (AAC) for people who cannot speak; (2) provides speech feedback in any application while typing for children and people with learning disabilities; (3) can serve as a talking word processor; (4) provides an advanced, multilingual speech engine for our KeyStrokes® on-screen keyboard and our SwitchXS® switch access solution."

IBM Easy Web Browsing

"IBM Easy Web Browsing software helps people with limited vision and seniors access Web content more easily."

MozBraille

"MozBraille is an extension to transform Mozilla or Firefox to a stand alone accessible Internet browser designed for blind or partially sighted users . So with mozBraille you don't need a third part program like a screenreader. MozBraille offers its users three displays or outputs: A Braille output on a braille terminal, A text to speech output, A big characters view."

Speakup for Linux Operating System

Speakup works with the Gnu/Linux operating system and provides access to all console programs in the operating system, and is compatible with Lynx, Pine, and similar applications.

SuperNova (formerly Hal) Screen Reader

SuperNova works with Windows 95, 98, Me, NT4, 2000, XP, Vista, & Windows 7. It provides a choice of 2 speech synthesizers: Dolphin Orpheus Speech System and Microsoft's MSAPI Speech Synthesizer. Available languages: English (UK and USA), Arabic, Croatian, Czech, Dutch, Finish, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Hong Kong Cantonese, Icelandic, Italian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Slovac, Spanish (Latin and Castilian), Swedish, & Welsh. It will also provide Grade 1 or Grade 2 Braille.

EIA Web Browser

EAI (Enhancing Internet Access) is a "specialized Web Browser, suitable for touchscreen systems, with fully integrated Web awareness, assessment and training modules."

SuperNova (as LunarPlus) Screen Magnifier with added speech

"SuperNova Screen Magnifier offers people with a visual impairment the same invaluable features as Lunar Screen Magnifier but with the added advantage of speech output. Any text on screen is read out so not only you can check for accuracy as you type in documents or emails but you can also hear information on menus and web pages."

The Magnifier

The Magnifier is software that provides an "Area Screen Magnifier for Windows 3.x, 95, 98, NT, Windows 2000, & Vista. The software supports 2 times through 10 times magnification, may be sized as needed or positioned anywhere on screen, and has several features such as Auto-Position. . ."

ZoomText 9.1

Level 1 provides 2x to 16x magnification. Level 2 provides synchronized magnification and screen reading. ZoomText works with Windows Vista, XP, ME, 2000, NT4, 98 and 95.There is also a version for DOS.

Kurzweil 1000

The Kurzweil 1000 is a system for scanning books and other printed material into a computer and then speaking it aloud through a synthesizer. Operating System: Windows 2003, Windows Server 2008, Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7 (except USB version)

Cicero Text Scanner & Reader

Cicero Text Reader is software that "effectively takes your computer and scanner and turns them into a reading machine for people with a visual impairment. Printed text documents are placed on the scanner and can then be translated into speech, Braille or simply held as a text document which can be adjusted, saved, edited and printed out."

OpenBook

This software set allows books and other material that has been scanned to be translated into text, even if the words in the printed material has been embedded in graphics. The text can be pronounced aloud by a voice synthesizer that is included. It can create both MP3 and WAV sound formats as well .brf and .brl Grade II Braille formats.

Telesensory Ovation

This machine scans and translates text from books and other printed matter into speech.

i-Scan

This document reader includes a DEC talk Voice, an OCR reader, a flat bed scanner, a computer, and a screen reader.

Poet Compact 2 Reading Machine

"This slender all-in-one reading machine can read any kind of printed matter with just the press of a button... The controls are self-explanatory, in tactile shapes and have sensible pressing feedback as well as touch tones.... Clear accurate speech - Pleasing human-like inflection - 2 speech languages included (Multiple languages available separately)... The Poet Compact 2 is a basic, easy-to-use model with only 2 buttons. With the first button it scans and recognizes texts quickly with a high-quality speech output. The second button is the pause button that stops and starts the speech immediately. The control knobs are used to adjust the volume and reading speed to your preference even when Poet is running. All controls are located in an aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly position on the front panel."

SARA - Scanning & Reading Appliance

"With the press of a button, you can scan reading material and have it read back to you. Have the SARA continuously read, read by line, word - even by letter, if you don't understand a word and need it spelled out. Pause when you need to, rewind, and fast forward. Choose among human-like voices that are the most natural-sounding and pleasant in any standalone scanning and reading system. The SARA features 29 voices in 19 language dialects and 12 major languages."

Click-N-Type Virtual Keyboard version 3.03.408

Click-N-Type is free software that works with windows and DOS applications. It shows a virtual keyboard on the screen for those people who cannot type on a computer's physical keyboard. Virtual Keyboard is a 32 bit application that requires Windows 95/98/ME/NT/2000/XP/Vista/Win-7 or later.

QPointer Keyboard

This software "enables convenient operation of GUI environment by means of keyboard only (mouseless operation). With QPointer running, the keyboard starts functioning as an absolute and relative pointing device. . . . It allows operation of the whole computer without taking hands off the keyboard."

Flexiboard

"Flexiboard is an entirely new alternative keyboard with a built-in optical overlay-detection method — the keyboard always detects which overlay is placed on top of the keyboard. Because overlays can be changed without commands to the computer, the user can handle a large range of overlays independently."

KeyStrokes 4 for the Mac

"KeyStrokes is a fully-functional advanced virtual on-screen keyboard that allows you to type with a mouse, trackball, head pointer or other mouse emulator to type characters into any standard Macintosh application. KeyStrokes provides advanced multilingual word prediction. ...it can do word completion, next word prediction and even multi-word prediction in any Roman language as well as many other languages....It can be used with a keyboard, mouse, trackball, head pointer, touch screen, or other mouse emulator. For those who can position the pointer, but not click the mouse buttons, the integrated Dwellix™ system-wide dwell-based utility allows mouse button clicks to be entered by simply holding the cursor motionless for a programmable period of time. You can even type without clicking."

Dwell Clicker

Dwell Clicker is a free utility for people who can move the mouse but have difficulty clicking the mouse buttons. "Dwelling is resting the mouse over one area of the screen for a specified time. The dwell click software allows you to perform left-click, right-click and double clicks, and even drag things around the screen."

Dasher

"Dasher is a data entry interface incorporating language modelling and driven by continuous two-dimensional gestures, e.g. a mouse, a stylus, or eye-tracker. Tests have shown that, after an hour of practice, novice users reach a writing speed of about 20 words per minute while taking dictation. Experienced users achieve writing speeds of about 34 words per minute, compared with typical ten-finger keyboard typing of 40-60 words per minute. Although the interface is slower than a conventional keyboard, it is simple to use, and could be used on personal data assistants and by motion-impaired computer users. Dasher can readily be used to enter text from any alphabet."

BigKeys

BigKeys LX and BigKeys Plus have keys that are 4 times as large as the typical keyboard. They work with both PCs and Macs.

Magic Wand Keyboard

According to its web site, the Magic Wand Keyboard "Needs No Strength—No Reach—No Dexterity. The Magic Wand Keyboard is a miniature computer keyboard, with a built-in mouse, which allows anyone with a disability who has limited or no hand/arm movement to fully access any IBM or Apple Macintosh computer. It is the only computer keyboard, and mouse, that requires no strength. This mini computer keyboard works with the touch of a wand (hand-held or mouthstick). It requires absolutely no force. Using only the slightest hand or head motion, the keyboard allows people with disabilities easy access to the Internet, e-mail, and all computer programs."

VirtualKeyboard

"VirtualKeyboard is an on-screen keyboard that offers point-and-click typing using pointing devices such as a head pointer, mouse, trackball, etc. This program is designed primarily for disabled person but it can be used also to teach the children to write, to prepare kiosk environments, etc. To use VirtualKeyboard simply click on the keys on the on-screen keyboard, each keypress will be sent to the active or front-most application. As with a real keyboard, to get uppercase characters you click Shift first, or to type in all uppercase, click Lock. Similarly, the other qualifier keys work as expected, they even work outside of VirtualKeyboard."

SmartNav

"SmartNAV is the perfect hands free ergonomic mouse for people with carpal tunnel, RSI and disabilities. Increase productivity by simply moving your head to control your computer with our ergonomic mouse alternative."

Eyegaze Communication System

This assistive technology enables people to use their eyes to operate a computer, communicate, operate a telephone, etc. "Its users include people with ALS (MND), brain injuries, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, spinal cord injuries, spinal muscular atrophy, strokes and Werdnig-Hoffman syndrome."

Tobii Communicator

"Communicator converts text and symbols into clear speech, gives you computer access and even allows you to control devices and appliances in your surroundings (ECU). Communicate the way you want, when you want, giving you new levels of control and independence….Tobii Communicator is designed for use by all individuals with communication disabilities, at various levels….Being able to engage in private and personal conversations without the assistance of a helper is of huge importance to many people — all of which is possible with Communicator 4. Tobii Communicator allows for high levels of personalization and for multiple user profiles and getting started couldn't be easier: you can be up and running in minutes, ready to chat, joke, give opinions, send texts or surf the Internet. And with powerful time saving tools such as word and phrase prediction, communication is quicker than ever….Tobii Communicator supports a full range of input methods, too, from keyboard and mouse input, to scan, switch, head mouse and eye control. And whichever method you use, with Tobii Communicator you can use infrared light transceivers to control your environment, giving you even greater independence."

VisionKey

"VisionKey combines a viewer mounted on a pair of standard frames with a small control unit. An eye tracker and a microcomputer measure the position of the eye and when a selection is made, it appears on the control unit LCD and on the computer. Users look at a specific word, letter or character on the chart in front of their eye and "type" by holding their gaze until a selection is confirmed by a green highlight and a beep."

Assistive Mouse Adapter

"The Assistive Mouse Adapte ... works by filtering out the unintentional movements of the hand caused by a tremor. The effect of the adapter is much smoother movement of the cursor on the screen and greatly improved accuracy of mouse operation. The adapter works with most PCs and operating systems. No additional software is required; the device is simply plugged in between the computer and the mouse and can be switched on or off, and adjusted depending on the tremor severity. It can also be set to filter out unintended multiple clicking on the mouse."

SwitchXS

"SwitchXS provides virtually complete access to Mac OS X and all standard Mac applications for people who can only use one or more switches. It offers full mouse and keyboard emulation by means of a so-called scanning mode. With each click on the switch the user selects an action, such as 'move the cursor up' or 'type B', from a 'scanning' menu. SwitchXS is typically used by people who are, for example, quadriplegic due to an accident, or living with neuromotor diseases such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) with very limited limb movement.'

Quadjoy Mouse

"Mouse for Quadriplegics with all of the functions of a standard 5 button mouse wheel mouse."

HeadMouse

HeadMouse, a wireless head-pointing device, comes in versions for both desktop and portable computers, and for both Macs and PCs. A Sip and Puff Switch is also available.

TrackerPro

"TrackerPro is a computer input device that takes the place of a mouse for people with little or no hand movement. Simply plug it in and it works just like a mouse (no additional software required). Anything that can be done with a regular hand mouse can be done by using TrackPro (in conjunction with one of many clicking solutions)."

Skipper

As the web site describes in much more detail, "Skipper is a powerful accessibility package for Linux which enables severely physically disabled people with many different conditions to make full use of applications that normally require good mouse and keyboard control."

 

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