Title IV of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires captioning of federally funded or produced public service announcements, and nationwide telecommunications relay services (TRS). In the last few decades, advances in voice, text and video relay service (VRS) technologies have further empowered individuals with disabilities by making available a much larger range of modes of communication.
Relay services allow an individual who is deaf, hard of hearing or has a speech disability to engage in communication via telephone or two-way radio with a hearing individual, in a manner that is functionally equivalent to the ability of a person who does not have a hearing or speech disability. Other assistive technologies also allow people with disabilities to access the Internet, entertainment activities and many classroom resources.
Below is a partial list of Assistive Technology devices:
Electronic pointing devices—used to control the cursor on the screen without use of hands. Methods include using ultrasound, infrared beams, eye movements, nerve signals, or brain waves.
Sip-and-puff systems—activated by inhaling or exhaling.
Light signaler alerts monitor computer sounds and alert the computer user with light signals. This is useful when a computer user cannot hear computer sounds or is not directly in front of the computer screen. As an example, a light can flash alerting the user when a new e-mail message has arrived or a computer command has completed.
On-screen keyboards provide an image of a standard or modified keyboard on the computer screen that allows the user to select keys with a mouse, touch screen, trackball, joystick, switch, or electronic pointing device. On-screen keyboards often have a scanning option that highlights individual keys that can be selected by the user. On-screen keyboards are helpful for individuals who are not able to use a standard keyboard due to dexterity or mobility difficulties.
Reading tools and learning disabilities programs include software and hardware designed to make text-based materials more accessible for people who have difficulty with reading. Options can include scanning, reformatting, navigating, or speaking text out loud. These programs are helpful for those who have difficulty seeing or manipulating conventional print materials; people who are developing new literacy skills or who are learning English as a foreign language; and people who comprehend better when they hear and see text highlighted simultaneously.
Screen readers are used to verbalize, or “speak,” everything on the screen including text, graphics, control buttons, and menus into a computerized voice that is spoken aloud. In essence, a screen reader transforms a graphic user interface (GUI) into an audio interface. Screen readers are essential for computer users who are blind.
Speech recognition or voice recognition programs, allow people to give commands and enter data using their voices rather than a mouse or keyboard. Voice recognition systems use a microphone attached to the computer, which can be used to create text documents such as letters or e-mail messages, browse the Internet, and navigate among applications and menus by voice.
Text-to-Speech (TTS) or speech synthesizers receive information going to the screen in the form of letters, numbers, and punctuation marks, and then “speak” it out loud in a computerized voice. Using speech synthesizers allows computer users who are blind or who have learning difficulties to hear what they are typing and also provide a spoken voice for individuals who cannot communicate orally, but can communicate their thoughts through typing.
TTY/TDD conversion modems are connected between computers and telephones to allow an individual to type a message on a computer and send it to a TTY/TDD device.
Thanks to the ADA, modifications that offer access to all types of media are available for people with disabilities so they may take full advantage of information, education, entertainment and simple one-on-one communication with others.