Access to Computers

As you prepare to teach instructors, faculty, and administrators how to increase access to computers, consider the following presentation.


After this presentation, faculty and administrators will be able to:

  • summarize the legal rights of students with disabilities as they relate to computer access
  • discuss the issues, needs, and concerns of people with disabilities in accessing electronic resources
  • describe common types of adaptive technology for students with disabilities
  • plan for the procurement of adaptive technology for campus computer workstations


This presentation can be modified or expanded to include more specific information about computer technology for students with sensory, learning, or mobility disabilities by using the videos and handouts entitled Working Together: Computers and People with Sensory Impairments, Working Together: Computers and People with Learning Disabilities, and Working Together: Computers and People with Mobility Impairments.


Approximately 60 minutes or longer with modifications.


Department chair, educator, staff, TA, student, or other department member who has experience working with technology and students with disabilities. The program may be co-presented with a staff member of a campus unit responsible for providing computer accommodations for students with disabilities.


  • Select the presenter(s).
  • Develop presentation outline and activities using the "Sample Script" provided in this section and the ideas listed in the Presentation Tips section of this notebook.
  • Create presentation slides from provided templates.
  • Add the contact information for campus resources to the "Resources" slide and to printed publications as appropriate.
  • Photocopy the handouts, Working Together: People with Disabilities and Computer Technology and Opening Doors: Mentoring on the Internet (optional). Create alternative formats as necessary.
  • If expanding the content to include more information about specific disabilities, photocopy the handout templates listed under the "Modifications" section above.
  • Photocopy the presentation evaluation instrument to distribute at the end of the session (see pages 239-241 for examples) or create your own.
  • Add links to your department's website to AccessSTEM, the Faculty Room, and to the Center for Universal Design in Education.

Equipment and Tools

  • DVD player and monitor
  • video projector, computer, and presentation slides; Internet connection (optional)
  • videos (open captioned and audio described versions of Working Together: People with Disabilities and Computer Technology, Opening Doors: Mentoring on the Internet (optional), and those listed under "Modifications" as desired)
  • handouts (Working Together: People with Disabilities and Computer Technology, Opening Doors: Mentoring on the Internet (optional), and those listed under "Modifications" as desired)
  • presentation evaluation instrument (pages 239-241)

Presentation Outline

  1. Distribute handout(s).
  2. Introductions.
  3. Begin presentation.
  4. Introduce and play video(s) as noted in script.
  5. Discuss computer access and assistive technologies.
  6. Expand content to play videos and discuss accommodations for specific disabilities (optional).
  7. Discuss possible accommodation strategies at your school.
  8. Discuss department or campus issues.
  9. Note campus resources.
  10. Distribute and collect completed evaluation instruments.


For further preparation resources for this presentation, consult

Sample Script

[Distribute handouts, Working Together: People with Disabilities and Computer Technology and/or those listed under Modifications.]

Using computing resources can increase the independence, productivity, and participation of students with disabilities. Computers can benefit people with low vision, blindness, hearing impairments, speech impairments, specific learning disabilities, mobility impairments, and health impairments.

In this presentation, we will look at the solutions that adaptive technology provides in enabling access to computers for people with disabilities. My objectives are for you to be able to summarize the legal rights of students with disabilities as they relate to computer access; discuss the issues, needs, and concerns of people with disabilities in accessing electronic resources; describe common types of adaptive technologies; and plan for the procurement of adaptive technology for campus computer workstations.

Access to computing resources for students with disabilities involves two issues: access to the computers themselves and access to electronic resources. Electronic resources include applications and software such as Microsoft Word, and information resources, such as online encyclopedias.

Next, we'll view the video Working Together: People with Disabilities and Computer Technology for an overview of computer access challenges and solutions. The video highlights some of the special advantages access to computers, adaptive (or assistive) technology, software, and the Internet provides to people with specific disabilities. Your handout, which has the same title, elaborates on this content and includes references to useful resources.

As the students in the video demonstrate, computers help lower many barriers faced by people with disabilities. They show how various technologies make it possible for people who have disabilities to use computing resources. These are only examples, since abilities, disabilities, and learning styles are unique to individuals. Many accommodations are simple, creative alternatives for traditional ways of doing things. You and your students can generate other effective ideas.

Next, we will consider examples of accommodations that allow people with disabilities to effectively utilize electronic resources. We will address several categories of disability, including sensory, learning, and mobility impairments.

Low Vision

Access Challenges

For some students who have low vision, standard written materials are too small to read, or objects may be blurry. Others may see objects only within a specific field of vision. Still others may see an image with sections missing or blacked out. Learning via a visual medium may be more mentally fatiguing for people who have low vision than for people who have standard vision. Examples of general accommodations for students with low vision include large-print books, handouts, signs, and equipment labels. The most heavily used lab handouts should be available in alternative formats, including large-print and electronic versions. Provide seating with good lighting. Providing areas with dim lighting may be helpful for those who are light-sensitive.

Assistive Technology

Several computer technologies can assist students with low vision. Computers equipped with large-print key labels and home-row key indicators can help users with visual impairments locate keys. Large monitors and anti-glare screens can also assist those with low vision. Computers equipped with screen enlargement software can enable people with low vision to read characters on the screen without assistance; large monitors allow them to maximize the amount of text they can see at one time.

The ability to adjust the colors of the screen or change the foreground and background colors can also help some students. For example, for those sensitive to light, it can be helpful to reverse screen colors from black on white to white on black. Some operating systems have accessibility options such as this built into them. There are also accessibility software packages that will perform these functions in concert with standard software.


Access Challenges

Blindness affects a student's ability to access printed materials independently. Some students who are blind know how to read Braille; others do not. Printed materials can be audio recorded or provided in Braille to accommodate students who are blind. Braille labels on equipment can assist with general lab accessibility.

Assistive Technology

Text-to-speech software can read screen text to students who are blind. The availability of headphones for individuals using speech output systems can reduce the distraction to others nearby.

Refreshable Braille displays allow line-by-line translation of text on the screen into Braille on a display area where vertical pins move into Braille configurations as screen text is scanned. Braille displays can be read quickly by those with advanced Braille skills, are good for detailed editing (e.g., programming and final editing of papers), and, because they are quiet, do not disrupt others in work areas. Braille translation software combined with Braille printers provide output for blind users who know how to read Braille.

Scanners with optical character recognition capabilities can read printed material and store it electronically on computers, where it can be read with speech synthesis or printed with Braille translation software and Braille printers. Such systems provide independent access to journals, books, and other information for people who are blind.

Providing lab resources electronically can help students who are blind utilize lab services independently and conveniently.

Hearing and Speech Impairments

Access Challenges

For students who have hearing impairments, examples of accommodations include visual or auditory signals for fire alarms, lab closing signals, and other alerts. Some students with hearing impairments need a quiet environment to hear effectively. Sign language interpretive services for lab instruction should be available when requested.

Assistive Technology

Hearing and speech impairments alone do not generally interfere with computer use. In fact, email can be used to facilitate communication between students who are deaf and teachers.

When using a computer, alternatives to audio output can assist users with hearing impairments. For example, a computer that produces a tone when an error is made can be programmed to flash the screen instead.

Speech synthesizers can act as substitute voices and provide a compensatory tool for students who cannot communicate verbally. Individuals with portable systems can ask questions and join in conversations when adapted computers provide them with intelligible speaking voices.

[Optional: View video and distribute handout Working Together: Computers and People with Sensory Impairments (10 minutes).]

Specific Learning Disabilities

Access Challenges

Students with learning disabilities have needs that may not be obvious to educators. Learning disabilities can interfere with a student's ability to process, synthesize, and organize information. A student may have difficulty demonstrating evidence of learning in written form or require extended wait time to process teacher questions or oral directions. A student may have difficulty processing printed text or become easily distracted by too much sensory stimulation. Examples of general accommodations for students with learning disabilities include providing a quiet place to work or test, breaking tasks up into manageable chunks, allowing extra time to complete assignments, and providing alternatives to note taking.

Assistive Technology

Computers can help people with learning disabilities focus and better understand information. For example, adaptive technology that provides multisensory experiences, such as displaying information in text while it is being read by a speech output program, can increase some people's reading speed.

Software that aids in efficient and accurate input can also assist students with learning disabilities. Spelling checkers, thesauruses, and grammar checkers can correct input errors. In addition, word prediction programs (software that predicts words from typed-in fragments) have been used successfully by students with learning disabilities. Similarly, macro software that expands abbreviations can reduce the need for memorizing keyboard commands and can simplify the entry of commonly used text.

Some people with learning disabilities find adaptive devices designed for those with visual impairments useful. In particular, large-print displays, alternative colors on the computer screen, and speech output can compensate for some reading problems. Some students who have difficulty reading can improve comprehension and identify and correct errors more easily when words are spoken or displayed in large font sizes.

Some individuals with learning disabilities are hypersensitive to background noise. Quiet work areas and hearing protectors may make it easier for these students to study and work in a computer lab or classroom.

[Optional: View video and distribute handout Working Together: Computers and People with Learning Disabilities (12 minutes).]

Mobility Impairments

Access Challenges

Mobility impairments may involve lower-body impairments or may result in limited or no use of hands. For some students it may be difficult to manipulate objects, turn pages, write with a pen or pencil, type at a keyboard, or retrieve research materials.

Assistive Technology

Examples of general lab accommodations for students with mobility impairments include lab assistants, adjustable tables, wrist rests, equipment located within reach, and materials available in electronic format.

Equipment that provides flexibility in the positioning of monitors, keyboards, documentation, and tabletops is useful for many individuals with disabilities. Plugging all computer components into power outlet strips with accessible switches makes it possible for some individuals to turn equipment on and off independently.

Some adaptive hardware and software assist students with little or no use of their hands in using a standard keyboard. Individuals who have use of one finger, a mouth- or headstick, or some other pointing device can control the computer by pressing keys with the pointing device. Software utilities can create sticky keys, which electronically latch the SHIFT, CONTROL, and other keys to allow sequential keystrokes to input commands that normally require two or more keys to be pressed simultaneously. The key repeat function can be disabled for those who cannot release a key quickly enough to avoid multiple selections.

Keyguards can help those with limited fine motor skills select keys. A keyguard is a plastic cover that fits over a standard keyboard with holes for the keys. Individuals with mobility impairments use the keyguard as a guide to more accurately select keys.

For students who need to operate the computer with one hand, left- and right-handed keyboard layouts are available. Alternatively, a keyboard layout software program can be used to alter the letter and number key arrangement of a standard keyboard to be adapted for one-handed use.

Some hardware modifications completely replace the keyboard or mouse for individuals who cannot operate these standard devices. Trackballs and alternative pointing devices can replace mice. Expanded keyboards (larger keys, spaced far apart) can replace standard keyboards for those with limited fine motor control. Mini-keyboards provide access to those who have fine motor control but lack a range of motion great enough to use a standard keyboard.

For students with more severe mobility impairments, keyboard emulation is available, including scanning and Morse code input. In each case, special switches make use of at least one body part over which the individual has voluntary control (e.g., head, finger, knee, mouth). In scanning input, lights or cursors scan letters and symbols displayed on computer screens or external devices. To make selections, individuals use switches activated by movement of the head, finger, foot, breath, etc. Hundreds of kinds of switches tailor input devices to individual needs. In Morse code input, users create Morse code by activating switches (e.g., a sip-and-puff switch registers a dot with a sip and a dash with a puff). Special adaptive hardware and software translate Morse code into a form that computers understand so that standard software can be used.

Speech input provides another option for individuals with disabilities. Speech recognition systems allow users to control computers by speaking words and letters. A system is trained to recognize specific voices.

Special software can further aid students with mobility impairments. Abbreviation expansion (macro) and word prediction software can reduce input demands for commonly used text and keyboard commands. Word prediction software anticipates entire words after a few keystrokes and increases input speed.

Internet accessible resources and services are useful for students with mobility impairments who cannot manipulate traditional books. They make independent access to information possible.

[Optional: View video and distribute handout Working Together: Computers and People with Mobility Impairments (14 minutes).]

Health Impairments

Access Challenges

Some health conditions and medications affect memory or energy levels. Some students who have health impairments may have conditions that limit their exposure to traditional forms of instruction. Providing class information or course content via the Internet and corresponding via email can benefit students who can obtain access to the Internet from their homes or the hospital.

Assistive Technology

Examples of general lab accommodations for students with health impairments includes the use of email for communication, information dissemination, and delivery of instructional content. Posting universally designed content and resource on a website can also provide remote access for students.

General Assistive Technology Considerations

Computer and network technologies can play a key role in increasing the independence, productivity, and participation of students with disabilities. Now that we've considered the various types of adaptive technology, let's think generally about some of the characteristics of adaptive technology to consider as you plan to incorporate such technology into your lab.

Adaptive technology comes in many forms with many different characteristics. It comes as hardware, software, or a combination of the two. In the video Working Together: People with Disabilities and Computer Technology, Daniel, who has a learning disability, uses spelling- and grammar-checking software with a standard computer and commercial software programs. Hollis controls his computer with specialized hardware—a joystick and a foot switch. He also uses special software, including a Morse code translation program, to work with these devices.

Adaptive technology can be easy to install or can require long-range planning, analysis of needs and options, and funding for implementation. A trackball is inexpensive and can be easily added to a workstation to assist a person who has a difficulty using a standard mouse. Eric, one of the speakers in the video, uses hardware that includes a personal computer, text-to-speech software, a speaker, a scanner, Braille translation software, and a Braille printer. Set up and support of such a system requires a significant financial investment, technical expertise, and long-term planning.

Adaptive technology can be easy to use or difficult to learn, requiring a great deal of commitment on the part of the individual user. An expanded keyboard plugs into a standard keyboard holder on the computer and operates like a regular keyboard. A voice input system, on the other hand, requires training to use. Each user must train the system to recognize his or her voice.

Adaptive technology can be generic or unique to the individual. Screen enlargement software serves people with a variety of levels of visual and learning impairments, whereas the mouthstick system that Rodney demonstrates in the video is more specialized.

Adaptive technology software solutions, such as screen enlargement programs, can be installed on one machine or networked so that they are available from more than one computer workstation. Solutions that incorporate hardware are often most appropriate on stand-alone stations. However, if these are stored near computer workstations, they can be easily moved to the particular station a student is using.

Given these characteristics of adaptive technology, you should consider multiple approaches to providing accommodations. Some solutions can be implemented quickly and easily and will provide quick successes to motivate additional support for the longer processes required to install more complex equipment and software.

In a computer lab, it is desirable to provide options at a computer workstation that address the needs of a variety of students. You should also have procedures in place to deal in a timely manner with specific needs that these general solutions cannot address. Work with the student to come up with creative, simple solutions. In the video, you saw Mitch, whose surgery required him to lie on his side on a cart for an extended period of time. Staff turned Mitch's monitor on its side and built a holder for his keyboard. That's what we mean by creativity!

Remember, you don't have to do everything at once. Start small, and add to your collection of adaptive technology as you receive requests and as lab staff gain skills in providing training and services. Here is a sample of some of the adaptive technology you might want to purchase in order to get started right now.

  • An adjustable table for each type of electronic resource provides access to students who use wheelchairs or are short in stature.
  • Large-print key labels assist students with low vision.
  • Software to enlarge screen images provides access to students with low vision and learning disabilities.
  • Large monitors of at least seventeen inches assist students with low vision and learning disabilities.
  • A speech output system can be used by students with low vision, blindness, and learning disabilities.
  • Trackballs provide an alternative for those who have difficulty controlling a mouse.
  • Wrist and forearm rests benefit many students.

[Optional: View video and distribute handout Opening Doors: Mentoring on the Internet (14 minutes).]


This presentation covered types of assistive technology. You viewed a video and reviewed materials that show how adaptive technology can assist students with low vision, blindness, hearing impairments, speech impairments, specific learning disabilities, mobility impairments, and health impairments.

[Distribute and collect completed evaluation instruments.]


For comprehensive information on accommodations, a wide range of case studies, frequently asked questions, and general resources, visit the AccessSTEM website. Other online resoures include the Faculty Room and the Center for Universal Design in Education. [Arrange to provide links from your campus' department website before the presentation.] Consider linking to these websites from your department's website.

Thank you for your time today and for your interest in finding ways to ensure that all of the students in our programs have equal opportunities to learn, explore interests, and express ideas.