Monday, May 3, 2010

CSUN Conference Reflections

By Owen Camarco, AT Advocate, Resources for Independent Living, Sacramento

I learned a lot of useful information during a couple sessions at the 25th Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference in March. It’s related to Assistive Technology on the computer.

One way Google is accommodating people with disabilities is with a new section for Accessibility that adds up the points for a website’s Search Engine Operation (SEO) Score. A high SEO score is important because it determines which order each website is placed during a search, and a website with a higher score will be placed on or near the top of the search results. So, with the addition of adding the Accessibility section on a SEO score, web designers are making a business case for companies to design an accessible webpage so they can get more web traffic.

Firefox also developed downloadable “Add-Ons” that will improve Internet accessibility. One Add-On called “Readability” enables a user to set many viewing controls (such as text size/color) and eliminate webpage clutter (such as advertisements). You can set controls to display a webpage as text only, which is useful for screen readers. You can also convert to an MP3, which can be transferred to a portable MP3 player. One additional feature of Readability includes a summarizing control so you can lengthen or shorten the amount of reading. This “Add-On” works very well and it’s free, which makes this tool a best friend to anyone with low vision or blindness.

Other free accessibility applications are the built-in Universal Access Programs on operating systems such as Mac OSX Snow Leopard. Snow Leopard includes tools that will assist users with Low Vision/Blindness, Hard of Hearing, Cognitive Disabilities, and Physical Disabilities. Snow Leopard also includes keyboard shortcuts that help to quickly enable any Universal Access Tool. The nicest part of having built-in Universal Access Tools is that the programs interface well with each other, because compatibility has been a problem with assistive technology software in the past.

People with disabilities can use these features to make their computer use easier. AT Coordinators, AT Specialists and Advocates may find this information useful for training and advocacy purposes. They can use these and similar tools to train consumers how to use AT on the computer for education, vocational, or recreational purposes.

What cool new software have you encountered recently? What FREE AT software would you recommend to others?

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