Lesson 10: Adaptive Technology

Academic Accommodations for Students with Disabilities
Distance Learning Course


The purpose of this lesson is to increase your awareness of the use of ADAPTIVE TECHNOLOGY in accommodations for students with disabilities.

By reflecting on YOUR own course while reading the CONTENT, you will be guided to consider possible modifications to your course SPECIFICALLY related to the accommodations for using computer labs and web pages.By considering design features to include when setting up a new lab that will be accessible to all students, you will become more aware of the possibilities of adaptive resources.

Question to REFLECT upon while reading the CONTENT

What challenges might students with disabilities face when using computer labs on your campus? What accommodations might they require?


In the past eight lessons we have concentrated on accommodations for students with specific disabilities or impairments. This lesson presents issues and suggestions of accommodations related to the use of COMPUTER LABS, COMPUTERS AND ADAPTIVE TECHNOLOGY, and WEB PAGES.

As increasing numbers of people with disabilities pursue educational opportunities that require computer use, the accessibility of COMPUTING FACILITIES becomes even more critical. To put it simply, computer labs need to be accessible to all users. Students with disabilities need equal access to:
* Building/facilities
* Lab staff
* Physical space and printed materials
* Computers and software
* Electronic resources

Are your students able to:
* get to the facility and maneuver within it?
* access materials and electronic resources?
* make use of the equipment and software?

Although YOU as a faculty member are not necessarily responsible for these facilities, your awareness of what facilities exist and their accessibility at your institution will enable you to consider appropriate accommodations for your students.

The following are BASIC RECOMMENDATIONS toward implementing universal design and increasing accessibility for all users in the computer lab. Are these recommendations implemented in the computer lab(s) on your campus?

* Place printed resources so that a wheelchair user can reach them.
* Provide at least one adjustable workstation.
* Provide key guards and wrist rests.
* Have a trackball, joystick, or other mouse alternative available.
* Have lab signs with high contrast and large print.
* Have key documents available in large print or Braille formats for those with visual impairments.
* Have screen reading software and a speech output system available.
* Have Braille conversion software and a Braille printer to provide output for patrons who are blind.
* Have large-print keytop labels, screen enlargement software, and a large monitor at least 17 inches available.
* Make a statement in key documents about your commitment to access and procedures for requesting disability accommodations.
* Have staff who are familiar with the adaptive technology and trained in disability issues.

NOTE: For more detailed recommendations, go to the COMPUTER LABS web page listed in the "WEB ADDRESSES for additional READINGS" at the end of this lesson.
Computers are essential tools in all academic studies. They can enhance the independence, productivity, and capabilities of people with disabilities. Computers can benefit people with low vision, blindness, speech and hearing impairments, learning disabilities, and mobility and health impairments. Each of these impairments poses challenges to accessing and using a standard computer and electronic resources. For example, a student who is blind is unable to read a computer screen display or standard printouts. A student with a spinal cord injury may not have the motor control and finger dexterity required to use a standard mouse and keyboard.

Access to computers for students with disabilities involves two major ISSUES: access to the COMPUTERS themselves and access to electronic RESOURCES such as word processors, spreadsheets, and the World Wide Web.

ADAPTIVE TECHNOLOGY is defined as any item, piece of equipment, or software that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional abilities of individuals with disabilities. ADAPTIVE HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE can facilitate computer access for people with disabilities. Solutions may involve simple, READILY AVAILABLE adjustments such as using built-in access devices on standard computers, or they may require UNIQUE combinations of software and hardware such as those needed for voice or Braille output.

Many accommodations require ADVANCE PLANNING with the student and disabled student services counselor. Often an adaptive technology SPECIALIST is available on campus who can make recommendations and set up the special software. While it is unlikely that YOU as a faculty member will be directly responsible for setting up such accommodations, it is helpful to UNDERSTAND the computer access issues facing students with disabilities and hardware solutions and the software for providing access to computers and electronic resources.

Following are examples of ACCOMMODATIONS, organized by TYPE OF DISABILITY for computer INPUT, OUTPUT, and DOCUMENTATION.

Most individuals who are blind can use a standard keyboard. Viewing standard screen displays and printed documents are problematic. Specialized voice and Braille output devices can translate text into synthesized voice and Braille output, respectively. Following are EXAMPLES of computer input, output, and documentation accommodations for individuals who are BLIND:

* Locator dots on the keyboard for commonly used keys.

* Speech output
* Refreshable Braille displays that allow line-by-line translation of a screen into a Braille display area
* Braille embossers.

* Braille embossers
* Scanners with optical character recognition that can read printed material and store it electronically where it can be read using speech output or Braille.

Most students with low vision can use standard keyboards. Special equipment or the use of built-in computer features can help modify screen displays and printer output. Following are EXAMPLES of computer input, output, and documentation accommodations for individuals who have LOW VISION:

* Large-print key labels and home row indicators.

* Large monitors and anti-glare screens
* Screen enlarger software
* Color and contrast adjustments
* Speech output systems.

* Scanners with optical character recognition
* Large-print or ASCII versions of documentation.

Students with learning disabilities generally do not have difficulty accessing standard computer equipment. The availability of specialized software and technology has provided a range of products suitable for educational accommodations that support reading, writing, and organizational skills. Following are examples of computer input, output, and documentation accommodations for individuals who have LEARNING DISABILITIES:

* Word processors with grammar and spell checkers
* Word processors with outlining and highlighting capabilities
* Word prediction software
* Phonetic Spelling software which can render phonetic spelling into correctly spelled words
* Speech recognition products can help students dictate assignments or term papers as well as navigate the Internet using voice commands
* Concept mapping software allows for visual representations of ideas and concepts. This software can be used as a structure for starting and organizing poetry, term papers, resumes, schedules, and computer programs.

* Enlarged screen displays
* Alternative color contrasts
* Speech output
* Reading systems incorporating OCR and speech output.

* Enlarged characters
* Speech output.

SPEECH and HEARING Impairments
Hearing and speech disorders alone generally do not interfere with computer access. E-mail can be used to facilitate communication between students and instructors. Following are examples of computer input, output, and documentation accommodations for individuals who have SPEECH and HEARING impairments:

* Students with speech or hearing impairments generally do not have difficulty accessing a standard computer.

* Alternatives to audio output can be provided. For example, a computer that uses a tone to indicate an error can be programmed to flash the screen using options in the operating system.
* Communication devices can act as a substitute for voices and provide a compensatory tool for students who cannot communicate verbally. This can allow them to engage in discussions and ask questions.

* Individuals with speech or hearing impairments generally do not have difficulty with standard screen displays or written documentation.

It is important to assure the student who uses a wheelchair or who has a mobility impairment that he can access the computer workstation. Using the standard mouse and keyboard for input can be difficult or impossible due to impaired upper extremity function. While standard screen displays are often not difficult to read, software and screen modifications may be necessary to facilitate input accommodations. Following are examples of computer input, output, and documentation accommodations for individuals who have MOBILITY or ORTHOPEDIC impairments:

* Accessible on/off switches
* Flexible positioning or mounting of keyboards, monitors, etc.
* Software utilities that consolidate multiple or sequential keystrokes
* Mouth sticks, head sticks, or other pointing devices
* Key guards
* Modified keyboards (e.g., expanded, mini, or one-handed)
* Trackballs or other input devices provide an alternative to a mouse
* Keyboard emulation with specialized switches that allow the use of scanning or Morse code input
* Speech input
* Word prediction software.

* Speech output
* General assistance may be needed to access printed materials.

* Individuals with mobility impairments generally do not have difficulty with standard screen displays or written documentation.

HEALTH Impairments
In general, health impairments should not interfere with computer access, unless the health impairment involves a neuromuscular or orthopedic component. In these cases, access issues and accommodations would be similar to those presented for individuals with physical disabilities. Health impairments and/or medication side effects may impact other factors such as endurance, concentration, and memory; thus accommodations similar to those listed for students with learning disabilities may be helpful.

In general, psychiatric or mental health impairments should not interfere with computer access. However, medication side effects may impact other factors such as endurance, concentration, and memory that can impact learning. Accommodations similar to those listed for students with LEARNING disabilities may be helpful.

The World Wide Web has rapidly become the dominant Internet tool, combining hypertext and multimedia to provide a network of educational, governmental, and commercial resources. The Web has mushroomed in popularity because it is such a powerful and versatile medium. Much of its power comes from the fact that it presents information in a variety of formats while it also organizes that information through hypertext links.

Because of the multimedia nature of the Web combined with the poor design of some Web sites, many Internet surfers cannot use the full range of resources this revolutionary tool provides. Some visitors:

* Cannot see graphics because of visual impairments
* Cannot hear audio because of hearing impairments
* Use slow connections and modems or older equipment that cannot download large files
* Have difficulty navigating sites that are poorly organized with unclear directions because they have learning disabilities, speak English as a second language, or are younger than the average user.

A person with a MOBILITY impairment may NOT be able to use a mouse and relies on the keyboard for Web browsing. Some people use adaptive technology with their computer to access the Web. A person who is blind may use a SPEECH OUTPUT SYSTEM to read aloud text that is presented on the screen; this system may be composed of screen reading software and a voice synthesizer. She would NOT be able to use a Braille output system, and although special keyboards exist, most people who are blind use standard keyboards and become TOUCH TYPISTS.

To create resources that can be used by the widest spectrum of potential visitors rather than an idealized "average," Web page DESIGNERS should apply "universal design" principles. They should consider the special needs of individuals with disabilities, older persons, people for whom English is a second language, and those using outdated hardware and software. Following UNIVERSAL DESIGN principles in creating a Web resource ensures that all Internet users can get to the information at a Web site regardless of their abilities, their disabilities, or the limitations of their equipment and software.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) develops the common protocols used on the Web to ensure interoperability and promote universal access. As Tim Berners-Lee, Director of the W3C puts it: "The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect."

The W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) has proposed GUIDELINES for all Web authors. The following suggestions are based on the WAI guidelines for Web content. Follow these guidelines when developing and revising your Web pages to ensure that they are accessible to a diverse audience.

1. General Page Design
Designing a well-organized Web site helps visitors navigate through the information presented
* Maintain a simple, consistent page layout throughout your site
* Keep backgrounds simple. Make sure there is enough contrast
* Use standard HTML
* Design large buttons
* Caption video and transcribe other audio
* Make links descriptive so that they are understood out of context
* Include a note about accessibility.

2. Graphical Features
People who are blind cannot view the graphical features of your Web site. Many people with visual impairments use speech output programs with nonstandard browsers (such as pwWebSpeak or Lynx) or graphical browsers with the feature that loads images turned off. Include TEXT ALTERNATIVES to make the content in graphical features accessible.

3. Use of Special Features
* Use TABLES and FRAMES sparingly and consider alternatives.
* Provide alternatives for FORMS and DATABASES.
* Provide alternatives for content in APPLETS and PLUG-INS.

4. Web Pages Test
TEST your Web site with a variety of Web browsers, and always test your pages with at least one text-based browser. This way you will see your Web resources from the many perspectives of your users. Also view the RESOURCES at your site using a variety of computer platforms, monitor sizes, and screen resolutions. Make use of an ACCESSIBILITY VALIDATION SITE, such as Bobby, that performs usability diagnostics on your pages and points out elements that could be inaccessible. Testing your site is especially important if you use HTML authoring software to write your pages as many of these programs do not automatically include ALT attributes and other accessibility features. Revise your HTML to make your site accessible.

NOTE: For more details, go to the WEB PAGES web page listed in the "WEB ADDRESSES for additional READINGS" at the end of this lesson.


It is unlikely that YOU as a faculty member are directly responsible for setting up COMPUTER LABS or creating ADAPTIVE TECHNOLOGY accommodations. However, it is possible that you will create WEB PAGES, or have already created them. In order to help your students, it is important for you to be AWARE of the many computer access issues facing students with disabilities and the hardware and the software solutions for providing access to computers and electronic resources.

The examples of issues and accommodations presented can serve as a reference to help you recognize options when you encounter a student with a disability in your existing courses, and to assist you in the PLANNING and DESIGN stages of creating a new course. Incorporating universal design principles into the course from the beginning reduces the need for accommodations later.


Send an email message to the group, answering the following question:

What are some specific design features your department might employ when setting up a new computer lab to make it accessible to all students?

Your email SUBJECT line should read: Accommodations 10: ADAPTIVE TECHNOLOGY.


You can read answers to frequently asked questions, explore case studies, or access additional resources for computer labs at:


for adaptive technology at:


and for Web pages at: www.washington.edu/doit/web-pages

(c) 2001 DO-IT. Permission is granted to copy material in this email for educational, non-commercial purposes provided the source is acknowledged. Contact DO-IT at: 1-206-685-3648, or doit@u.washington.edu