• United States

Assistive technologies

Oct 20, 20034 mins

* Assistive technologies give a helping hand to people with disabilities

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.  If you, yourself, do not have a disability, consider yourself lucky.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 54 million Americans have some type of visual, hearing, mobility, or cognitive/learning disability.  Worldwide, nearly 500 million people  have a disability.  One out of three Americans knows someone with a disability.  What’s more, as we age, we are more likely to develop a disability, such as loss of hearing or vision, or reduced mobility due to a debilitating illness.

Despite recent legal and technological advances for people with disabilities, The Disability Network estimates that as many as 70% of all Americans with disabilities are not in the workforce, though 72% of them want to be.  Sadly, nearly 75% of people with disabilities do not have access to computer technology, which could help them join the workforce.  I suspect that part of the problem is that people are simply unaware of the technology available today to assist persons with disabilities in the workplace. 

As a technology evangelist, you should be aware of the types of assistive technologies that could help people become productive members of the U.S. workforce.  You never know who it might help – perhaps even you, someday.

This past summer, my neighbor – single and in her mid-forties – suffered a devastating stroke that left her unable to see clearly.  She’s not blind, but her vision is so low that she can’t read, can’t drive, and can’t work.  Or can she?  Maybe she won’t be able to drive again, but there’s no reason she can’t use computer technology to help her read and return to work.

My neighbor is a property manager.  She’s been at her job for many years, and she’s too valuable to her company to simply quit.  Her boss wisely sees that her knowledge is a great asset and he doesn’t want to lose her.  I’ve advised them to look into technology for people with low vision, including ZoomText by Ai Squared and Open Book from Freedom Scientific. 

ZoomText is screen magnification software program for persons with low vision.  Even though certain display settings can be changed in Windows XP to enlarge the image, some users may find that it is not enough.  ZoomText can assist by increasing the magnification size, offering different viewing modes, and acting as a limited screen reader.  With the document reader tool, the user can have e-mails and other electronic documents read aloud. 

With the use of a scanner, the reading software Open Book converts printed material and reads the document aloud to the user.  Thus, my neighbor could review contracts and other pertinent job-related documents.

She probably would find a large-key keyboard useful as well.  Keytronics has one with enlarged and bold printed keys to assist persons with low vision in finding the correct keys to depress. 

Most of these types of assistive technologies work with standard PCs, although I would recommend that users buy either an IBM or HP brand PC.  Why?  Because these two hardware manufacturers do more than any others to test their PCs with assistive technology to ensure compatibility.  IBM goes a step further, developing much of its own add-on assistive technology. 

Windows XP is the recommended PC operating system for an accessible workstation.  This software has built-in accessibility features that are set through the Start / Control Panel / Accessibility Options menu.  Sometimes these settings alone are enough to meet a user’s needs.

I’m giving you lots of links to great accessibility sites (below) to save for reference if the need ever arises in your office or household.  If you want to see some of this technology in action before buying it, try visiting your local public library, as many libraries have accessible workstations available to patrons with disabilities.  Visit for more information about libraries with accessible workstations.

Linda Musthaler is vice president of Currid & Company.  You can write to her at