Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Personalizing the PC for Accessibility

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Personalizing the PC for Accessibility

Article excerpt

Students with disabilities need access to computers in the classroom--but this goes beyond the mere availability of a machine. In addition to specialized software applications and assistive devices, there are many features available to help those with vision, hearing, or motor-skill adaptive needs (Horejsi 2003). Both Apple and Microsoft operating systems can be adjusted to meet the needs of individual users.

However, many teachers are unaware that these features even exist--assistive preferences are often buried somewhere deep for the user to find. Or worse, the programs are free, but must be downloaded.

Even if teachers do know about these features, they may have trouble locating them because the monikers are often cryptic or cutesy. For example, Mac offers Screen Flash, Sticky Keys, Mouse Keys, and VoiceOver. On the Windows side, there are Magnifier, Narrator, and Filter Keys. To make matters more confusing, teachers may have to turn on the feature before they can even use it.

Assistive adjustments are often divided into three categories: vision, hearing, and physical and motor skills--but there is often overlap for specific learning disabilities. It's also important to know the umbrella terms for this genre of operating-system adjustment. For Macs, this preference is called Universal Access and is found in the System Preferences. In Windows XP, it's called Accessibility Options and is found in the Control Panel (classic view only). Windows Vista and 7 refer to this as the Ease of Access Center. Both Windows and Mac include further accessibility features in their web browsers--so don't forget to explore these options as well.

For students with visual impairments, some helpful features include screen readers or narrators (a text-to-speech feature that reads aloud what is on the screen), contrast adjustments and color choices, magnification of text and icons, speech-to-text (where the computer types what you say), talking applications, and clock and system alerts.

Interestingly, some of these features allow the computer to be used effectively without a monitor. Even more amazing, braille-display mirroring allows dozens of refreshable braille terminals to be connected to a single computer--creating tactile presentations and collaborations similar to the use of LCD projectors in classrooms. …

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