What is accessibility?

Accessibility is often used to describe the removal of barriers for people with disabilities. Through the use of assistive technologies, they can have access to software like screen readers, speech recognition and tools that help them gain access. 

There are useful accessibility tools already included in Windows, as well as popular applications like Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Adobe Acrobat. For example, there is an on screen keyboard and magnifier built into the Windows operating system along with screen tips and the ability to have high contrast colour scheme settings.

Popular formats used widely like Microsoft Word, PDFs and PowerPoint presentations have accessiblity benefits built in already. For example, any PDF document can be made to automatically scroll or change the font and background colour as well as adding bookmarks for quicker navigation.

Web accessibility

Websites conform to accessiblity guidlines as outlined by the Web Accessibility Initiative to give access for all disabilities. As such the visual presentation of text, colour, layout and navigation on sites should be considered when designing with accessibility in mind.

An example of good accessibility is using alternative text descriptions for images which would help text-to-speech software for the visually impaired. Also, providing options for changing the size of the text or changing the contrast of the colour scheme would contribute to giving access to all.

Further information can be gained from the Web Accessibility Initiative.

Assistive technology

There are a wide range of technologies that support different disabilities. Text to speech tools help those with visual impairments access Word documents. An example of this is ReadTheWords.com which provides a variety of automated voices to read text.

Technologies can be combined to give accessibility benefits such as the use of QR codes which generate a visual code which in turn can be used by an iPhone to display the textual content . This can then be used by text to speech software on the iPhone to provide audio. You can download and install free QR reading software for your phone.

Access apps

AccessApps is a suite of about 60 free and open source Windows applications provided by JISC TechDis which run from a portable USB stick. These include tools such as screen contrast changers, magnifiers, and sound and image editing software. See details of how to download AccessApps.

2 column general content block - Resources

Useful resources

  • JISC pages on disability legislation

    Provides relevant and useful advice, digital content and network and IT services, while we research and develop new technologies and ways of working

  • US DoD Section 508 
    Although the US legislation has no force here, it does outline many aspects of good practice
  • W3C Accessibility Initiative 
    This is supported by the US Department of Education, the European Commission, and various companies such as IBM

Free resources

  • RoboBraille
    Send a Word document and it will return it in MP3 format

  • Natural Readers
    Provides text to speech conversion for documents, web pages, emails

  • Read the Words
    Customise fonts and colours while reading a PDF, high contrast colours, save PDF as text or web page

  • Accessibar
    Extension for Firefox which provides accessibility features for web pages

  • Skype and SAM (Skype Answering Machine)
    Both enable interviews and conference calls to be recorded as MP3 to be used as learning objects