How Technology Is Becoming More Accessible For All
Throughout the past year, remote and hybrid learning have taken over the lives of children, parents, and educators alike.
The change from in-person learning to hybrid or remote learning was a sudden change, and made life difficult for all students. In many cases, difficulties were magnified for those with disabilities who may have had an interruption in services or even regressed educationally, socially, and/or behaviorally. Thankfully, technology that you use each and every day has settings that will make everyone’s life a little easier.
Beginning with cell phones, did you know that you could have a better experience just by changing the settings on your phone? If you have an iPhone, go to your settings > accessibility > and you will find ways to make your phone more accessible for those with vision needs (magnifier, display and text size, spoken content), audio needs (volume balance, pairing your phone to your hearing device, subtitles/captioning), and physical/motor needs (keyboard commands, voice control). Android users will find similar accessibility settings.
On Zoom, users can do the following:
- Customize the font size of chat and closed captions
- Use keyboard shortcuts, you can find the many available shortcuts here
- The program supports screen reader (an assistive technology typically used by people with vision impairments)
- Zoom will create transcripts which makes it easy to search and review meetings recorded in the cloud
- Rearrange videos by clicking and dragging to different positions
- The host can spotlight an interpreter so everyone sees them no matter which participant is speaking
It is crucial that along with the growth of Zoom throughout the past year, the program continues to feature settings that allow all people to use the program.
Other commonly-used programs/apps such as Microsoft Teams and GoToMeeting have recently made strides in creating a more accessible experience. You can find information about the accessibility of both programs and specific commands here and here. These programs becoming more accessible is crucial for the educational and social growth of those who need it.
Google Meet includes accessibility features such as:
- Live captions – Display captions of the person speaking so that participants who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can follow what is said during the video meeting.
- Screen readers and magnifiers – Users can utilize the built-in screen reader, full-page zoom, and high contrast color.
- Keyboard shortcuts – Users can control the camera and microphone and open accessibility features using the keyboard. Find the shortcuts here.
Google Meet is used in many classrooms so it is crucial that users who are visually and hearing impaired are considered when it comes to what the program is able to do.
Websites such as Yelp, where one can find out more information about a business, allow users to see if the business is wheelchair accessible, the type of parking available and other settings that are important to people whether they have a disability or not. Settings such as these allow more accessibility.
In 2019, people with disabilities gained representation in emojis. Described as “the fastest growing language”, emojis now exist of a person using a wheelchair, with a hearing aid, a prosthetic arm, and more. While this may seem like a small victory for those with a disability, it is important because it increases the visibility of those with a disability (and disability-related topics) by being put on mainstream platforms that people see consistently.
The Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT) describes accessible technology as “technology that can be used successfully by people with a wide range of functional abilities. When technology is accessible, each user is able to interact with it in ways that are best for themselves.”
This is similar but different from assistive technology. Described by the Assistive Technology Industry Association as “products, equipment, and systems that enhance learning, working, and daily living for persons with disabilities”, assistive technology includes writing and typing aids, prosthetics, wheelchairs, FM systems, and so much more. You can learn more about the many types of assistive technology here, http://www.rehabtool.com/at.html#Prosthetics%20and%20Orthotics.
In a world that continues to trend towards technology, it is important that these pieces of technology are accessible for all!