What is Assistive Technology (AT)?

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Assistive technology (AT), also called adaptive technology, refers to a product which enables a person with a disability to perform a task in a computing environment that they would otherwise find difficult or impossible to do. AT can be hardware or software, although in the context of popular computing and mobile devices it is generally used to refer to software-based accessibility products and features.

Some accessibility features that are common to Microsoft Windows and Apple computers include:

  • Screen reader: reads out what is on screen, as well as additional information for blind users.
  • Screen magnifier: makes what is on screen appear larger for vision impaired users. Screen magnifiers usually include settings for changing colour schemes.
  • On-screen keyboard: a screen version of a regular QWERTY keyboard which can assist someone with limited mobility, such as a broken arm.
  • Adjustable colour schemes: these benefit people with colour-blindness.
  • AT may refer to features already built into a computer or mobile device, or it may refer to a third-party product.

Screen readers

Popular screen readers in Windows includes the free NVDA by NV Access and commercial JAWS produced by Freedom Scientific. Microsoft also provides a free license to use the commercial WindowEyes product on recent versions of its Office suite, and its own built-in screen reader Narrator received a significant update in Windows 8 to make it touch-enabled. On the Apple Mac and iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad, the built-in VoiceOver screen reader is very popular, and on Android devices you can find the TalkBack screen reader.

Screen Magnifiers

Popular screen magnifiers in Windows include the built-in full-screen magnifier found in Windows 7 and later, accessed by holding the Windows key and pressing the ‘+’ key. Commercial products such as ZoomText are also popular. Apple Mac and iOS also feature zoom functionality once enabled in the accessibility preferences, and Android features a zoom function from Android 4.2 and later.

Additional information on the accessibility features of major operating systems can be found in the Digital Technology section.

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