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1.4 Assistive Technology

Now that we have a good idea of what types of disabilities can affect web use, it’s important to know what kinds of technology will be used to navigate your site. From screen magnifiers to screen readers that can read out every element of a page, users have a wide range of tools to experience the web.

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1.4 Assistive Technology

John Hartley here for Tuts+, and in this lesson for Beginners Guide to Web Accessibility, we'll take a quick look at some assistive technologies. Assistive technologies are used by many, and range from screen magnifiers that simply enlarge a specific area on a screen, all the way to screen readers that read everything that your mouse hovers over. First, we'll look at screen magnifiers. Extensions like ChromeViz, Zoom, or Zoom Page, or even the default zoom of the browser, are good examples, and software like MAGic from Freedom Scientific for Windows, and the default magnifier on OS X, or the SuperNova reader magnifier, all help enlarge the screen so that someone with a vision disability can more easily see your webpage. Another piece of screen magnification is the potentialed increase of cursor size. This helps clarify where the mouse cursor is at all times. In this way users, essentially able to use your site the same way as those without vision impairment. Screen readers are much more powerful. A screen reader can read an entire webpage, tell the user what type of element they're encountering, and even convert the text on the screen to braille. If on Windows, users have the option to use software like NVDA, for free, or pay for software like Jaws or Orca. On OS X, there's a free screen reader called VoiceOver, that comes standard on all Macs. Other screen readers include ChromeVox and FireEyes. In general, all screen readers will list out headers, read alt tags for images, list links on a page, use access keys, read out tables in the column content format. They will obey display none and visibility hidden by not reading those, but they won't pay attention to the CSS layout order. It will go primarily by the order of the mark-up. Screen readers will read texts that's been indented off the screen. In chapter two we'll take a look at NVDA and VoiceOver. Then in chapter three we'll learn a little more about visually hidden text that's not on the screen, but a screen reader can actually read to help with the content of your page. We've taken a look at users to keep in mind when planning for your site to accessible, and the tools that they'll use. You also learned what it means to make your website compliant and how the WCAG helps you do that. In the next chapter, we'll take a look at some of the tools you can use to start testing your site manually to achieve the highest level of accessibility.

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