For the purposes of this document, adaptive technology can be considered both hardware and software tools used by people with disabilities to access information from a computer. The number of these technologies is growing at a rapid pace and any list provided would quickly be out of date. As well, while the largest collection of adaptive technologies exists for the Windows platform, the number of tools emerging for alternative platforms such as Macintosh and Linux is also growing.
However, as a general overview, some of the more common tools would include:
Probably the most publicized of all the adaptive technologies, screen-reading technologies synthesize text from the monitor screen into audible output and are mainly used by the visually impaired. However, these types of technologies also benefit those with cognitive issues (dyslexia, for example), and may also be used in either low- or no-vision situations. Within this group of tools, there are both system-wide applications (such as JAWS, Window-Eyes) as well as speech browsers (such as IBM's HomePageReader, Connect Outloud) that are task specific (i.e. for surfing the web). While these applications are generally configured to 'speak' the text that appears on-screen, they can often be configured to convert their output to tactile output devices, such as Braille readers (hardware applications that produce a line of Braille text for the end user).
As their name suggests, these are tools that enlarge either sections of a monitor screen or the entire screen. They are primarily used by those with limited or low vision.
Voice recognition technology synthesizes spoken commands into either text output or into user interactions (commanding a mouse click for example). These tools, which employ audio-pattern matching, require a certain amount of training as the software learns to interpret the user's voice accurately. While these technologies empower those with gross mobility impairments, the software manufacturers have also targeted these tools to specific user groups where a hands-free environment is advantageous (such as driving a car), in the process turning computers into powerful dictation devices. Currently, legal and medical editions are being marketed and sold. Market leaders include Dragon Naturally Speaking and IBM's ViaVoice.
From 'sip and puff' tools and foot switches to one-handed keyboards and software that allows a digital camera to track head movements and transform them to mouse actions, a large number of hardware and software tools exist to replace the traditional mouse and keyboard that are familiar to most. An example of one of these switches, the Twiddler (www.handykey.com) , is a combination keyboard and mouse that fits in the palm of your hand. Generally, these applications are targeted to those with some form of mobility impairment.
It is important to remember that, in many cases, end-users may employ more than one technology on their computer systems, and bundled hardware/software packages are not uncommon (for example, screen-reading software may be coupled with tools to convert text to Braille output and a Braille printer).
In terms of accessibility to information and technology on Queen's campus, the Adaptive Technology Centre in Staufffer Library has a variety of adaptive technologies available for people who are registered with Queen's Health, Counseling, and Disability Services.