Computer Access Fact Sheet

Computer Access Fact Sheet in Word format
Computer Access Options Chart in Word format

SCATP offers a chart of assistive technology options that are commonly used for computer access.

Download SCATP's Computer Accessibility List (Word Document)

An assistive technology device is any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, off-the-shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve a person’s functional capabilities. These devices may be as simple as reading glasses or as complex as a speaking personal computer. An assistive technology service is any service that helps an individual select, acquire, or learn to use an assistive technology device. These services include customizing, adapting, maintaining, and repairing devices, assistive technology evaluations, funding, and technical assistance and training on device use.

The computer age has provided all of us with the tools to do things we couldn't do before or couldn't do as accurately or quickly on our own. Computers are ability equalizers: the programs they run can help a kindergarten teacher calculate amortization figures, and a mortgage banker to create a birthday card for a 5-year old. For persons with physical, sensory, and/or cognitive disabilities, computers can also be used to compensate for various limitations, to help people with disabilities produce the same results as persons without those limitations.

Despite the fact that computerized systems can "read" written text for the blind, allow non-verbal individuals to "speak," and persons who are deaf to communicate by phone, the level of greater independence that computers can provide cannot be reached if the user is unable to input information or readily access the output.

Did you know.....?

  • There is a computer access system that can be run with your eye movements?
  • Refreshable Braille displays allow reviewing screen output without needing a Braille printer?
  • Voice output can be personalized according to gender and age and different accents so that a 6-year old British girl using an AC device doesn't sound like a middle-aged, American man?

Hundreds of hardware and software products are available for persons with disabilities so that they can tap into the wealth of information and assistance computers provide. This incredible number of options is, nonetheless, directly proportional to the number of problems associated with choosing the most appropriate computer or program. To alleviate some of the confusion, this fact sheet provides an overview of input and output access products.


Alternative input interfaces, modified keyboards, or voice input may be a solution for persons who cannot use a standard keyboard because of motor function or visual limitations. General input interfaces include devices and programs which provide an alternative means of controlling the cursor on the computer screen. These include products that allow the user to touch the screen, use eye movements, or activate a switch mechanism to move the cursor. A mouse or trackball would also fall into this category of devices.

To enter text or commands without using standard keyboards, there are several alternatives.  Modified keyboards, one-handed keyboards, expanded keyboards and scanning switch systems may be used. There is also a host of products designed to assist individuals use a standard keyboard such as sticky key programs, auto repeat function disablers, and key guards, locks, and overlays. Text or commands may also be entered using a voice input system.


Output includes on-screen data as well as hard copy.  The assistive technology associated with it generally is geared towards persons with sensory disabilities. Screen output can be identified to persons who are blind or have low vision through the use of screen magnification software, speech synthesizers, and screen review software (screen readers) which produce enlarged text and graphics or voice output. Computer or program-generated messages previously identified with an audible "beep" are now available with visual indicators for persons with hearing disabilities.

Refreshable Braille displays allow individuals who are blind to read screen output through tactile feedback. These units have small knob-shaped pins in rows and columns to simulate Braille text. When activated, the pins corresponding to the Braille characters are raised. The display is "refreshable" because when the user has read what is on the display, the pins change according to the text on the screen and the user continues reading.

Hard copy output in Braille can be obtained as easily as printing using a Braille printer and text-to-Braille translation programs.

For more information...

If you are interested in finding out more about the hundreds of products designed for universal computer access, there are a number of organizations that may be of assistance to you.

Trace Research and Development Center

University of Wisconsin/Madison
1500 Highland Avenue
Madison, WI 53705-2280
(608) 263-1156 (V)
(608) 263-5408 (TT)

Closing the Gap, Inc.

526 Main Street
Henderson, Minnesota 56044
(507) 248-3291

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