Everyone Can Use Computers

This article originally published in Paideia: Undergraduate Education at the University of Washington, Winter 1997, Volume 5 number 2.

Regardless of academic field, every student needs access to the powerful tools and wealth of information offered by computers and the Internet. However, some students face significant barriers to standard computer access. Blind students cannot see the screen or printouts. Deaf students cannot hear the meaningful beeps and other audio output from the computer. Some individuals do not have the use of their hands and therefore cannot type on a standard keyboard. 

As the development of computer and network technologies has progressed at t tremendous speed, so has the development of adaptive technology that allows people with disabilities to access computer and networking hardware and software. The UW is a leader in providing technology access to its students, faculty, and staff with disabilities.

The UW's Adaptive Technology Lab (ATL) provides Apple Macintosh and IBM-compatible microcomputers, software, peripherals, adaptive technology, and training materials for use by students and employees. All systems are connected to the Internet. Some individuals with disabilities use the ATL regularly; others receive consultation from Lab staff to make informed purchase decisions for themselves or their departments.

Some of the creative alternatives from computer input and output:

  • Large print displays and voice output systems provide access to the screen.
  • Braille embossers produce accessible output for blind students.

Learning Disabilities

Some individuals with learning disabilities have difficulty processing written information. They may find adaptive devices designed for those with visual impairments useful. In particular, large print displays, alternative colors on the computer screen, and voice output help some students with reading disabilities.

Mobility Impairments

Adjustable tables allow individuals in wheelchairs to position themselves in front of the computer. Individuals who must press keys one-at-a-time with a finger, head stick, mouth stick, or other pointing device can benefit from"sticky keys" software that allows sequential keystrokes of inputting commands that normally require two or more keys to be pressed simultaneously.

Some hardware modifications completely replace the keyboard. For example, mini-keyboards or expanded keyboards can be used by those who lack a wide range of motion or fine motor control, respectively. Morse code input with a sip-and-puff device and voice input also provide efficient input methods.

Hearing Impairments 

For students with hearing impairments, alternatives to audio output are available. For example, if the sound volume is turned to zero, a computer system flashes the menu bar when audio output is normally provided.

The wheelchair accessible Adaptive Technology Lab is located within the Computing Resource Center in 102 Suzzallo Library.