Assistive Technology 2010


In this document:



What is “Assistive Technology”?

The Final Proposed Accessible Information and Communications Standard states, “Assistive technology is equipment or software that assists people with disabilities; examples include screen readers and voice input software.” This can be anything from low-tech book holder, to a high-tech touch-screen computer monitor.


What is a disability?

The Ontario Human Rights Code defines “disability” as:


a. any degree of physical disability, infirmity, malformation or disfigurement that is caused by bodily injury, birth defect or illness and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, includes diabetes mellitus, epilepsy, a brain injury, any degree of paralysis, amputation, lack of physical co-ordination, blindness or visual impediment, deafness or hearing impediment, muteness or speech impediment, or physical reliance on a guide dog or other animal or on a wheelchair or other remedial appliance or device;


b. a condition of mental impairment or a developmental disability;


c. a learning disability, or a dysfunction in one or more of the processes involved in understanding or using symbols or spoken language;


d. a mental disorder; or


e. an injury or disability for which benefits were claimed or received under the insurance plan established under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997 (“handicap”).


The following link from the Ministry of Community and Social Services further defines different types of disabilities and provides links to information about communicating with individuals with disabilities.


Here are several categories of disability:


·         Vision disabilities

·         Hearing impairments

·         Physical disabilities

·         Intellectual and developmental disabilities

·         Learning disabilities

·         Mental health disabilities

·         Speech or language impairments

·         Deaf-blind disabilities



Disabilities and Assistive Technology

The following is a list of disabilities and the most commonly used assistive devices as described in Participation and Activity Limitation Survey 2006: A Profile of Assistive Technology for People with Disabilities (PALS):


·         Hearing – hearing aids

·         Seeing – magnifiers

·         Communication – computer or keyboard devices

·         Mobility – canes or walking sticks

·         Agility – grasping tools or reach extenders

·         Pain – hot or cold aids

·         Learning – home computers

·         Other needs – respiratory aids

In the library context, assistive technologies are used primarily to provide or increase access to library-related goods and services for people with disabilities.  Examples include magnification and amplification devices, page-turners, enhancements to computer workstations, text-to-speech software, etc.


Assistive Technology and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)


For detailed information about the AODA, including the standards, relevant documents and training materials, visit  AccessOn .


A. Customer Service Standard


The Customer Service Standard was adopted by the Ontario government in 2007 in the form of Ontario Regulation 429/07.


The Customer Service Standard requires that all providers of goods or services develop a policy on allowing people to use their own personal assistive devices to access the goods and services provided and on any situations where such use may not be permitted. Personal assistive devices are such things as walkers, white canes used by people who are blind or who have low vision, note-taking devices and personal oxygen tanks to assist breathing.


In addition, the policy should address any measures the organization offers to enable people with disabilities to access its goods and use its services. This may include assistive devices, services or methods offered such as alternate formats of documents, or assistance of a staff person. (Adapted from the Guide to the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service, Ontario Regulation 429/07, section 6-b, numbers 3 and 4.)



B. Draft Proposed Accessible Information and Communications Standard


The Proposed Accessible Information and Communication (IC) Standard has been submitted to the Ontario government but has not yet been adopted.

The proposed IC Standard aims to make information and communications in the province accessible for most people.


Within the context of the proposed IC Standard, assistive technology relates primarily to communication supports and services. Appendix ‘A’ of the proposed standard lists a number of “accessible options”, including:


·         assistive listening system

·         guides and stabilizers

·         speech and/or voice recognition

·         alternative keyboards

·         augmentative and alternative communication devices

·         in-screen keyboards

·         alternative pointing devices

·         configurable keyboard access utilities including key activation delay

·         repeat delay and/or a single finger utility

·         word completion or prediction utility

·         alternative input device

·         keyboard modifications

·         pointing device alternatives

·         enlarged buttons or controls with increased spacing

·         guides, stabilizers and tactile labels to assist in activating buttons and controls

·         voice input

·         mechanical keypad input alternative

·         audio interface

People with disabilities may use one or more assistive technologies in communicating with others or in getting information.


Assistive Technology Resources for Public Libraries


In the public library context, the primary aim of assistive technology is to improve access to library resources and services for people with disabilities.


The following resources are suggested based on their appropriateness for shared use in a public library setting and have been divided into three categories: Hardware, Software, and Low Cost Tools.


For each type of technology, a brief outline has been provided, which includes:


Description  What the technology does and how it can be used in a public library.


Target Group  The type of disabled individual who might make use of this service.  Note that some assistive technology may be used by individuals with different types of disabilities.  Not all of the types of disabilities that could benefit from the use of the technology are listed.


Models  Examples of products that fall under the category (not recommendations to buy).


Links  Links to pictures, descriptions and/or information about the product (some links are to vendors).


Points to keep in mind when planning to purchase assistive technology:


·         Software system requirements may not be compatible with all printers, scanners, sound cards and computers.

·         Some assistive technology devices require the purchase of additional software not included in the original package in order to operate.

·         The expressed needs, format preferences, goals, and educational requirements of people in the community should be considered. If possible, libraries should hold consultations or focus group meetings to determine the preferences of individuals with disabilities in their community.

·         Libraries should consult with other local staff, professionals, universities, colleges, and other libraries to find out what assistive technologies are already in use in the community. 

·         Assistive technology should be as intuitive as possible and require little training and retraining of staff and patrons. Consider the training time required on the device for both staff and patrons.  Some patrons may not want to use a device if it takes a long time to learn how to use it.

·         Avoid complex and expensive options that patrons are unlikely to use. Seek information about low cost or free options (such as those listed at the link below). 

·         Try to find out what personal assistive technologies users may have access to and use in their home.  These are likely the types of technologies that they would also want to use in the library.

·         If possible, download trial products for trial periods before deciding on what assistive software to purchase.

·         Research licensing agreements and upgrade policies and be aware of how many computers the software can be used on.

·         Find out the level of technical support the vendor is able and willing to provide.

·         Try to determine the number of users who will benefit from the technology, keeping in mind that the technology may be useful for individuals with different types of disabilities as well as individuals without disabilities.


Useful links


Top Website for free, trial, and inexpensive assistive technology – Adaptech, a research centre in Montreal’s Dawson College, provides links to free, short-term trial, and inexpensive adaptive technology, some of which can be downloaded online.  Note: While the links are mostly still relevant, some of the information on the website is outdated.


Top Website for finding consultants and assistive device companies within Canada - Industry Canada’s comprehensive Information and Communication Technologies, List of Assistive Device Companies provides links to companies which can be searched by province and disability, as well as alphabetically.  It includes links to accommodation consultants, accessible web consultants and multiple format companies and provides a short and long description of each.




·         CCTV/Desktop Video Magnifiers

·         Handheld Video Magnifiers

·         Scanning and Optical Character Recognition Scanners

·         DAISY Digital Audio Portable Players/DAISY Readers

·         Touch Screens/Monitors

·         ITY

·         TTY or TTD

·         Page Turner

·         Alternative Access/Computer Input Alternatives:

1.    Alternative/Augmented Keyboards (Large Keys, Customization, Ergonomic, Adjustable Keyboards, One-handed)

2.    Portable Keyboards/Lapboards

3.    Braille Keyboard

·         Alternative mouse/Alternative pointing devices

1.    Joysticks

2.    Trackballs

3.    TrackPads/Touchpads

4.    Switches and Switch Software

5.    Head/Eye Controlled Input and Tracking Devices

·         Refreshable Braille Display

·         Braille Embossers

·         Braille Note-taker/Braille Note-taking Device




Before purchasing software, the library should ensure that the software desired is compatible with the destination computer’s operating system and any other software and hardware necessary to run the software. 


Note: To avoid duplication and limit costs, it is important to be aware of what options and assistive technologies are already available through the software that the library currently owns and that patrons already use. For instance, Windows Vista includes speech recognition and text-to-speech software, an on-screen keyboard, a magnifier, and other assistive technology that can be used with Microsoft products.  Information about these products and tutorials for these products are available online on the Microsoft website.


Most software programs today allow users to alter font size, change colours for improved contrast, and add or modify audio without purchasing additional software. 

“Sticky keys” is an option available with most software. It is for people with a physical disability that limits their ability to hold down several keys simultaneously and allows a user to type one key at a time instead of holding down multiple keys (e.g. CTRL-ALT-DEL).


As well, libraries may be able to save on costs by downloading Free Sotware online.  One website for finding free and inexpensive software online can be found at: http://adaptech.dawsoncollege.qc.ca/fandi_e.php.  It is important to keep in mind that free software may not have the same level of sophistication and choice as purchased software. However, it may be the best option for libraries that only use the software occasionally.


Some software products geared towards individuals with learning disabilities may have application for more than one type of disability.  For instance, Read and Write Standard and Gold provide both word prediction and voice recognition software as well as speech input. Much assistive technology can also be useful for people without disabilities and second language learners.


·         Text-to-Speech Software

·         Screen Reading Software

·         Optical Character Recognition (OCR) Software

·         Optical Braille Recognition (OBR)

·         Screen Magnification Software/Text Enlargement Displays

·         Speech-to-Text/Voice Command or Recognition Software

·         On-Screen Keyboards

·         Word Prediction Software

·         DAISY Digital Audio Software

·         Publishing/Converting Software

·         Animated Signing Characters (Signing Avatars)

·         Communication Board Software

·         Dwell and Click Software

·         Braille Translation Software


Low Cost Tools

·         Large Print Keyboard/Keytop Labels

·         Braille Keyboard/Keytop Labels

·         Book Holders/Reading Stands

·         Headphones

·         Handheld or Clip-On Pocket Magnifiers

·         Magnifying Lamps

·         Microphones

·         Portable Assistive Listening Device/ Sound Amplification

·         Hand-held Pen Scanners/Personal Reading Assistants

·         Keyguards




CCTV/Video Magnifier

Description  For users wishing to view a larger version of an image or text that is not available in a format which can be used with a computer (for instance, with hand-written materials or materials not published online).  The Closed Circuit Television System (CCTV) or Video Magnifier, is a magnification system with a black and white or colour monitor able to enlarge text up to 60 times from any print format (magazines, hand-written documents, printed photographs etc.).  This makes print materials in the library accessible to individuals with low vision.  The CCTV uses a small camera to generate high-resolution images on a monitor.  It often includes the ability to change levels of magnification, background colour and colour combinations. Some models include other options such as auto-focus; others are portable and project the image onto a white screen.  For lower-cost magnification devices that are portable, Handheld Video Magnifiers and hand-held or clip-on magnifying devices (in the “low cost tools” section below) may be preferred.

Target Group  For people with low vision.

Models  Humanware, Deskmate (mobile), PocketViewer

Links             Adaptive Technology Research Centre

Special Needs Computer Solutions


Handheld Video Magnifier

Description  These portable devices are for people who struggle with a single, fixed magnifying lens, and want adjustable magnification.  They provide the video magnification of a CCTV in a portable, lightweight format, often with a much smaller screen.  The quality of the image and magnification are much like that of a CCTV.  This category covers a variety of types of handheld magnification devices.  Some are self-contained, while others are portable but need to be hooked up to a computer monitor or TV in order to perform their function.  Many look much like a digital camera and can be used to capture and enhance images.  If the library wishes to purchase a magnifier that is stationary, a CCTV would be preferable.

Target Group  For people with vision disabilities.

Models  Portable Senseview, Amigo, Flipper, Clarity has several models

Links             Aroga

Special Needs Computer Solutions


Scanning and Optical Character Recognition Scanner (OCR)

Description  Scans and converts the printed page into e-text, which can then be displayed on a computer monitor or sometimes a screen attached to the device itself.  This allows the text to be edited, or used with word processing software.  Certain models don’t require a computer and are able to scan and provide audio output for printed materials on their own.  While some systems include both a scanner and the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software to make the text editable or audible, others do not.  After the item is scanned, OCR software converts the page into a standard computer file. OCR is necessary in order to use screen readers or refreshable Braille displays, which are generally used with patrons with low vision or who are blind, patrons who have learning disabilities and patrons with physical disabilities.  If the library already owns scanners for use with assistive technology workstations, it may not be necessary to buy any new scanning device(s), as any scanner can generally be used with OCR software.  Scanners with OCR are generally very user-friendly.  Scanners come in a variety of forms, from regular flat-bed to hand-held pen scanners (see the low cost tools section below). 

Target Group  For people with vision or learning disabilities.

Models  CrossScanner, Ovation, Wizpen, VERA (scans and reads on its own)

Links             Enablemart

Special Needs Computer Solutions



DAISY Digital audio portable player/DAISY Reader

Description  For libraries that carry ‘talking books’ in DAISY format.  DAISY stands for “Digital Audio-based Information System” and is an internationally recognized format created especially for individuals with print disabilities, including patrons who are blind or have low vision, patrons with learning disabilities and patrons with physical disabilities.  DAISY books can combine audio, text and graphics.  While computer software that reads DAISY format is available, DAISY-compatible players that are portable and may be borrowed are ideal, as not all users will have their own player at home.  Players however are quite costly and expensive to replace.  While mp3 and mobile phones are sometimes able to play DAISY books, they do not allow for all of the features of the DAISY players, and may not be able to display all of the aspects of the DAISY book (e.g. graphics).  DAISY players are often easier to use than portable cassette, CD, and mp3 players, as they generally provide larger control buttons.  As well, an entire volume can generally be contained on one disc.  DAISY players also contain special features that imitate using a physical book. Most allow the user to go forwards and backwards, make bookmarks, pause, speed up or slow down, read or ignore footnotes and jump from chapter to chapter, header to header or page to page.  They combine the functions of e-text and audio players, also allowing the book to be searchable.  Some players allow users to store files on a memory card (sold separately).

Target Group  For people with visual, physical or learning disabilities. The DAISY consortium suggests that some users with learning disabilities may benefit from listening to a book on a DAISY player while reading a print copy at the same time.

Models          Humanware, Plextalk, Victor, Telex

Links             CNIB 

Frontier Computing


ITY (Intertype, UbiDuo)

Description  An interactive system which allows for in-person communication between two or more individuals with a small keyboard and monitor, much like online ‘chatting’, but the devices must be used in the same location.  Consists of two connected (via cords or wireless) keyboards and monitors that are very light and resemble small laptops.  Messages can be typed back and forth rapidly with people who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, or non-verbal with strong typing skills.  Some models are wireless and portable, containing battery packs, but may be connected to a computer through a USB port allowing up to four people to type to each other at once.  Library staff can use this technology to communicate with library patrons.  For users who do not have strong typing abilities, or for relaying shorter messages, it may be preferable to use a simple pen and paper to communicate, or Communication Board software (listed in the software section).  Also, library staff may want to use their own chat software to communicate with patrons on public computer workstations located within the library.

Target Group  For people who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, or non-verbal.

Models  Interpretype, UbiDuo

Links              Ubiduo




Description TTY (or teletypewriters) are also known as TTD (telecommunication Devices for the Deaf).  TTY is a device for the deaf that sends and receives typed messages over a telephone line.  The receiving party need not have a specialized TTY phone.  With the current popularity of email and online chat, TTY may not be as relevant in today’s libraries, and may not be the first form of communication used, but may still be the method of choice for some library users.  If chat service hours are limited and emails to the library are not answered immediately, users may prefer to receive a direct response through TTY. Some TTYs contain memory or printers for users who may want to save the conversation.  Some also contain an answering machine that will save and print TTY messages received.  Many can be easily plugged in or unplugged and replaced with a standard phone as needed, which is useful for libraries who would like a TTY phone but would not get enough use out of it to warrant a separate phone line. 

Target Group  For people who are deaf or have hearing disabilities.

Models  For telephone TTY calls, Minicom IV, Compact/C, Supercom 4400, Miniprint, Superprint Series.  For online TTY calls, Nex Talk-VM (now discontinued) and SoftTTY

Links             Canadian Hearing Society






Page Turner

Description  Allows patrons with physical disabilities to turn pages of books, magazines, and other documents through the use of a switch, joystick or remote control while the book is held by the mechanism.  Most machines allow pages to be turned forwards, backwards and skimmed.  Does not include controls, as control can vary from user to user, however, they can be used with most environmental controls, such as switches and joysticks.  Some machines are large and stationary while others resemble small computer monitors and contain a handle for easier transportation.  Some can be tilted, allowing a patron to read lying down.  In order for a patron to use this device, a staff member must connect and secure the document for reading, and connect and position the control device selected for use.  While this technology is costly, its function is not duplicated by any other devices.

Target Group  For people with physical disabilities who have trouble turning pages.

 Models  GEWA, Touch Turner

Links             Enablemart 

Special Needs Computer Solutions 


Alternative Access/Computer Input Alternatives

Alternative Access/Computer Input Alternatives are tools that allow users to input to a computer in a way that is easier or more comfortable for them than a traditional keyboard and mouse.  These devices are for use by individuals with physical disabilities, vision disabilities or learning disabilities.  Library users with disabilities may need these devices in order to access the Internet, the library catalogue or computer software.  Some alternative/augmented keyboards come with a built-in alternative mouse/alternative pointing device, such as a joystick or trackball, eliminating the need to purchase an additional alternative input device.  Some users may not use a keyboard at all, and may use an alternative pointing device/alternative mouse alone with on-screen keyboard software. 

Touch Screen/Monitor

Description  Touch screens replace a pointing input device.  Computers are activated by directly touching the screen, without the use of a keyboard, mouse, or other input device.  Touch screens are placed directly on a computer monitor or exist as integrated units.  The screen is sensitive to touch and can be used with fingers, pointing pens, toes and even prostheses, depending on the screen.  For users with a variety of disabilities, touch screens allow the user quick and easy input to a computer.  They are easy to use, and especially convenient for use by children and individuals who have little time to be trained.

Target Group  For people with visual, physical or learning disabilities.

Models  Magic Touch Touchscreen, TouchWindow, Touch Monitor, One Touch

Links             Enablemart 


Special Needs Computer Solutions 


Alternative/Augmented keyboards (large keys, micro-keyboards, and customization)

Description  Alternative keyboards come in a variety of shapes, sizes and styles to suit different types of disabilities.  Alternative keyboards may have larger keys than regular keyboards or use different colours for better visibility.  These devices also come in a variety of sizes and layouts to suit different needs.  They can provide increased efficiency control and comfort.  They can be one-handed, numerical, or used with a wand or pen.  Alternative keyboards may also be created by simply using large print or Braille Labels that can go over the keys of a regular keyboard, as listed in the “low cost tools” section below.  On-Screen Keyboard Software (listed in the "software" section) can be substituted for a physical keyboard.

Target Group  For people with vision or physical disabilities.

Models  Zoomtext large Print keyboard, EZ-Reach 2020 (for repetitive strain injuries), Goldtouch Ergonomic Adjustable keyboard, Ergodex DX1 Input System, BigKeys

Links             Adaptive Technology Research Centre 

Neil Squire Solutions 





Portable keyboard/lapboard

Description  Provide a great deal of mobility; they may be used at any computer station, allowing patrons in wheelchairs to reposition the keyboard for better access to, or visibility of, the keys.  The keyboard may be placed on a lap or wheelchair.  Portable keyboards generally have a stand and are able to rotate on the stand.  Some contain a small screen for word processing.  Some models are marketed for educational purposes for children and contain Word Prediction software.  The low cost of portable keyboards is attractive, but they only display a few (four to 16) lines of text.  The wireless keyboards and mini notebook computers common today may be adequate.

Target Group  For people with vision or physical disabilities.

Models  AlphaSmart (Dana and Neo models), Laser PC6

Links             Secrest 

Neo Direct 


Braille Keyboard

Description  Contains keys with Braille characters as well as letters set up in QWERTY format, making it accessible to people with or without vision disabilities.  Keyboard/keytop labels are also available for purchase and listed in the “low cost tools” section.

Target Group  For people with low vision or who are blind.

Models  Braille Sense Plus QWERTY

Links             Enablemart 



Alternative mouse/pointing devices

These devices (joystick, trackball, trackpad and switch) replace the mouse and require limited movement.  They allow users who find a traditional mouse difficult and frustrating greater control.  While some devices may have left and right click buttons, others consist of a smooth round ball.  A separate “arm” or mounting device can be purchased separately to more easily adjust the positioning for patrons with physical disabilities. These devices may require uploading of specialized software; if so, it generally comes with the product.  Some of these devices include software which slows down the movement of the on-screen cursor. These alternative devices can be used in conjunction with Dwell and Click software (listed in the “software” section) to slow down the pace of the cursor, filtering out unintentional movements and making the cursor more visible for individuals with low vision.  These alternative pointing devices are for individuals with physical disabilities, limited motor skills or vision disabilities. 



Description  A Joystick allows the user smooth control of the cursor and generally contains buttons for left and right clicking.  Power wheelchair users may be accustomed to joysticks.  The grip of each joystick has a unique size and shape, usually a ball or t-shape.  Some come with an adjustable grip to suit a variety of users.  Others may be controlled by mouth or chin.

Target Group  For people with physical disabilities.

Models  Tash Joystick, SAM Joystick, Rock Joystick, Point It

Links             Enablemart 


Special Needs Computer Solutions 



Description  A Trackball is controlled by the palm of the hand or fingertips. Some trackballs are suitable for foot control.  Trackballs come in a variety of sizes for a variety of disabilities.  The larger the trackball, the less fine motor control is required.  Some trackballs make use of a wrist rest and wrist strap for better comfort.  Others include a cursor trail function that displays a trail behind the cursor on-screen, for greater visibility.

Target Group  For people with physical disabilities, especially those with limited fine motor control or who have trouble maintaining a grip on a traditional mouse.  Also for people with low vision.

Models  Roller Plus Trackball, Orbit Mouse, Expert Mouse Optical

Links             Neil Squire Solutions 


Special Needs Computer Solutions 



Description  Allows the user to move the on-screen cursor using a soft touch upon a flat, very sensitive surface (or pad).  The user does not need to use any force to “click” or operate the device.  Currently found on most laptops.

Target Group  For people who are unable to make the hand and wrist movements necessary to navigate the joystick or the trackball.

Models  CRUISE TrackPad, iGesture Pad 

Links             Neil Squire Solutions 

Special Needs Computer Solutions 



Description  Switches consist of a series of buttons which provide input to a computer.  Switches allow the user to move the on-screen pointer and click.  Switches come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colours, methods of activation and placement options.  Foot switches also exist.  There are two other parts to the switch that are generally sold separately: the USB transmitter/receiver (interface device) and its software.  The interface device and software are generally required in order to connect the switch to a computer and interpret the actions of the switch.  Some software programs allow for on-screen-scanning, prompting the user to choose from a number of options.  A prompt that is either visual, auditory or both, provides the user with options. The user activates the switch in order for the prompted action to be taken. 

Target Group  For people who are physically disabled.

Models  Super-Switch, BIGtrack, software includes Dragger 32, Cross Scanner, Smartclick

Links             Enablemart 

Special Needs Computer Solutions 


Head/eye controlled input and tracking devices

Description  A device or tiny reflective dot worn by the user on forehead, glasses, or another part of the body facing the computer monitor.  A computer camera/tracker allows the user to manipulate the cursor through head movement, an infrared beam, eye movement, nerve signals or brainwaves.  Head and eye input can be used with an on-screen keyboard.  Sometimes Dwell and Click software is included with this device.  Voice input technology may be preferred by patrons capable of using this technology.  Users of this technology would not likely have the necessary mobility to use other alternative keyboards or mice.

Target Group  For people with physical disabilities who cannot use an alternative keyboard or mouse.

Models  Madentec Tracker, Headmouse Extreme, SmartNav

Links             Enablemart 

Neil Squire Solutions 


Refreshable Braille Display

Description  A keyboard-sized machine which displays Braille characters electro-magnetically, as it raises and lowers pins through holes in a flat surface, imitating Braille dots.  It can be used to read output from a computer such as emails, websites and text files.  As information is sent through a display, note taker, or computer, it is translated into Braille on the device, which changes as additional information is provided.  Some models must be used with Braille translation software, while others contain the software.   Some models are portable and allow the displays to be used without a computer.  Other models are able to play DAISY format audio.  Because speech synthesizers can often be used to give audio output for blind or low vision patrons, Braille displays may not be necessary for many blind patrons who prefer to receive the information in audio format.  Audio output in the form of speech synthesis is increasingly used in conjunction with Braille displays to increase the accuracy of the interpretation of what is on the computer screen.  This technology would be important for users who are deafblind.  Some Braille Displays are also Braille Notetakers, which act as a keyboard, allowing the product to be used for both input and output.

Target Group  For blind people or people with low vision who are able to read Braille and who would like to gain access to documents on the computer.

Models  Tactile Dynamics has a few models.  SyncBraille, BrailleSense, ALVA

Links             CNIB 



Braille Embosser

Description  A Braille embosser is used for printing documents in Braille.  It may be purchased by libraries with a large number of patrons who read Braille, allowing computer generated text to be printed in Braille format (after being translated by Braille Display software).  The embosser must be used in conjunction with Braille translation software that will translate the text from the standard word processing program into Braille.  Braille translation programs can translate text into many different grades or versions of Braille.  Some embossers are also ink printers, so that users with some vision or an individual reading with a person who is blind can read the print text as well.   Because speech synthesizers are frequently used to provide audio output for blind or low vision patrons, Braille embossers may not be the preferred choice for many patrons with vision disabilities.  However, some patrons may prefer having a Braille copy for accuracy.  Note: Because producing Braille through embossers requires a strong knowledge of the equipment, Braille transcribing and Braille proofing, producing Braille in-house may not be appropriate for many public libraries.  Unless the library has staff fluent in Braille, it might be best for public libraries to use a professional Braille supplier. 

Target Group  For blind and low vision people who are able to read Braille.

Models  Enabling Technologies, Index Braille and Freedom Scientific have various models

Links             CNIB 


Braille Note-taker/Braille Note-taking Device

Description  A Braille note-taker provide a way for patrons who are blind or have low vision to complete a variety of tasks, such as taking notes or surfing the Internet.  As the Braille text is entered by the patron, it is usually displayed on a small display or screen on the machine, but other output methods are also used.  Some contain audio for users to ensure the accuracy of the text they are producing.  Some newer models consist of a standard keyboard while others have a keyboard that consists of six or eight keys.  They are small and portable.  They may be connected to a computer to save data or data may be saved on the device itself.  It may also be connected to a Braille embosser for printing. 

Target Group  For blind and low vision people who are able to read and write Braille.

Models  Voice Sense Notetaker,

Links             CNIB 





Text-to-Speech Software

Description  For users with learning disabilities or low vision who want verification of what they are seeing in print.  Because it does not read all system information and does not make a website or document completely accessible through the full description of the document (system information such as file structure or alt boxes), it is not an accessible format for blind users.  Screen reading software is more appropriate for providing full accessibility to blind patrons, but text-to-speech software is nonetheless appropriate for users with low vision or users with learning disabilities.  Some people can see very well but have a disability that makes reading large groups of text difficult or have a hard time sitting in front of a computer for an extended period.  Also, text-to-speech software is useful for users who have low vision and can read a document, but would like corroboration of what they are seeing.  This product allows users to read more quickly and accurately.  Text-to-speech software is much simpler to use than screen-reading software and is less costly.

Target Group  People with learning disabilities or low vision.

Links  Some text-to-speech software programs are available free online, but may not be able to convert larger files and may not have as many features as other text-to-speech software.  However, for simple text, it may be all that is required. 

Free sources include www.naturalreaders.com and http://sayzme.sourceforge.net




Screen Reading Software

Description  Screen reading software converts the text of an electronic document into audio using synthesized speech.  It may also convert text into Braille or large print.  It can read text on a web page, Microsoft Word document or other format.  This software could enable library patrons with vision disabilities to navigate the library website, access the library catalogue, and search the Internet.  Microsoft Office XP/2003 has screen reading software for Microsoft Word built in.  Screen reading software can enable the user to:

Target Group  People with vision or learning disabilities.

Models  JAWS, WYNN, and WindowEyes

Links             CNIB



Optical Character Recognition (OCR) Software

Description  Converts the printed page into e-text.  After an item is scanned, OCR software converts the page into a standard computer file.  This allows the text to be edited, or used with word processing software.  OCR is used by scanners, screen readers and refreshable Braille displays. While some scanners include OCR software, others do not.   Your library may already own a scanner with OCR capability.  Hand-held pen scanners (see the "low cost tools" section) have built-in OCR software. 

Target Group  For people with vision or learning disabilities.

 Models  CrossScanner, Ovation, Wizpen, VERA (scans and reads on its own)

Links             CNIB 

Special Needs Computer Solutions 


Optical Braille Recognition (OBR) Software

Description  Using a traditional scanner, this software reads Braille text and converts it to electronic text that can be used in various applications.  As with OCR, it enables the user to edit and manipulate the text.  Use of this software does not require knowledge of Braille.  It can also print Braille if the library has access to a Braille Embosser.

Target Group  For blind and low vision people who are able to read Braille.

Models  NeoVision Optical Braille Recognition Software

Links             CNIB 



Screen Magnification Software/Text Enlargement Display

Description  Magnifies the parts of the computer screen selected by the user.  Enables magnification up to 64 times and adjustment of magnification level.  May allow for inverted colours, enhanced pointer viewing and tracking options.  Some programs also have screen reading capabilities and speech and Braille output.  Screen magnification software can be used to make the library’s website and catalogue, the Internet and other software programs accessible to patrons with low vision.  Screen magnification software may not always be necessary, as many websites and software programs allow for adjustment of font size.

Target Group  For people with low vision.

Models  ZoomText or MAGic 

Links             Adaptech

Adaptive Technology Research Centre 


Speech-to-text/Voice command or recognition software (VCR)

Description  Enables voice-activated, hands-free computer use for those unable to use computers or navigate the web using traditional or alternative input devices due to physical, vision or learning disabilities.  This technology allows the user to see the words they speak in electronic print on the computer screen.  It also allows users to send commands to the computer hands-free.  It can  be used to create text documents, browse the internet and navigate among applications and menus by voice.  One may also use this technology to translate pre-recorded audio into text.  Headphones should be used with the software so that the audio output does not disturb other library patrons.  There are two basic types of software: discrete speech systems, requiring a short pause between words, or continuous speech systems that allow one to speak continuously.  The discrete speech systems are ideal for students with speech difficulties but are rarer today, as the continuous systems allow for a faster, more natural dictation.  A microphone is generally provided with the software, but libraries may want to purchase a higher quality microphone in order to ensure the greatest level of success with the product.  The technology still requires the user to use some other form of input device at times, which may be difficult for some users with physical disabilities. This software is often time-consuming to set up for the user, especially voice command functions, and requires time to 'train' the program to recognize the user’s voice.  It is best suited for adult users as it may be difficult for the software to recognize children’s voices.

Target Group  For people with physical, vision or learning disabilities.

Models  IBM ViaVoice or Dragon NaturallySpeaking, Cicero

Links             Adaptech

Adaptive Technology Research Centre 


On-screen keyboard

Description  An alternative input option, an on-screen keyboard is displayed on the computer screen and made accessible using a pointing device, mouse, touch screen, trackball, joystick, switch, or head/eye tracking device instead of a standard keyboard.  This software is an alternative for users unable to use a standard or custom keyboard.  Some software allows for customization.  Other software allows users to redefine keys based on personal preferences.  Some on-screen keyboards include word prediction software to help increase typing speed.

Target Group  For people with physical disabilities. 

Models  SofType, SwitchXS, OnScreen

Links             Adaptive Technology Research Centre 




Word Prediction Software

Description  Word prediction enables a user to select a desired word from an on-screen list that appears as he or she types, designate a specific key to represent a frequently-used word, and correct or suggest spelling.  Some programs provide audio feedback.  This technology reduces the amount of effort and time needed to compose text for individuals who have difficulties typing due to physical, learning or low vision disabilities.  Word prediction technology is sometimes built into On-screen Keyboard software.  Libraries should ensure that word prediction software purchased is compatible with the library's word processing software.

Target Group  For people who have physical, learning or low vision disabilities.

Models  SoothSayer, Aurora Suite, WordQ

Links             Adaptive Technology Research Centre 



DAISY Digital Audio Software

Description  DAISY Digital Audio Software reads DAISY format discs for patrons who prefer not to use the personal DAISY players or for libraries that do not own personal DAISY players.  Users can listen to a book in DAISY format at a computer workstation.  Allows for many of the same options as a portable DAISY player (customization, bookmarks, etc.).  Users who might have difficulty using the buttons on a portable DAISY player could play a DAISY book on a computer workstation with the assistance of an alternative input device or software.

Target Group  For people with vision, learning or physical disabilities.

Models  EasyReader, eClipseReader, Victor Reader Soft

Links             CNIB



Publishing/Converting Software

Description  This technology can be used to create large print, DAISY, mp3 and Braille versions of material that the library holds in print or electronic form.  Also, libraries wishing to publish human recorded audio, synthetic speech, or record their own audio for use by a DAISY player could use this software.  It could be used to supply accessible documents requested by patrons with disabilities.  Some versions allow for the insertion of footnotes, page numbers and pop-up pictures.  A trial edition of the Dolphin EasyConverter is available for download at http://www.yourdolphin.com/productdetail.asp?id=25. (This is not a product recommendation.)

Target Group  For a variety of disabilities.

Models  Dolphin Publisher products, Plextalk Recording Software

Links             DAISY Consortium 



Animated Signing Characters (also called Signing Avatars)

Description  A communication tool for libraries wishing to make materials accessible for sign language users.  Translates text or voice and displays signed communication on a computer monitor using a 3-D animated figure.  The avatar can communicate in sign language (e.g. ASL) or another signed communication system (e.g. Exact Signed English).  It is exportable to video in various formats.  This software can be used with background images, web pages, and other materials in order to make presentations and workshops accessible.  Sign language speakers will find it useful for viewing presentations and workshops at the library, and accessing electronic documents.  In certain circumstances, this technology may eliminate the need to hire a sign language interpreter.  Libraries should also keep in mind that, in certain circumstances (e.g. informal conversations), other forms of communication (e.g. written) may be more appropriate.  The library should always keep in mind the user’s preferred form of communication.

Target Group  For people who are deaf or hard of hearing and communicate in sign language or another signed communication system.

Models  Sign Smith Studio, iCommunicator

Links             Adaptive Technology Research Centre 




Communication Board Software

Description  A graphics database that contains thousands of pictures or communication symbols in clip art form for patrons who require augmentative communication technology.  Library patrons and staff are able to communicate by pointing at images or symbols.  Can be used on-screen or printed on a large poster board.  Communication boards may include symbols, letters or words.  Some individuals with disabilities will have their own personal communication aids, but for those who do not, these picture symbols, whether printed or online, will allow library staff and patrons requiring augmentative communication technology to communicate.  If printed, boards should include symbols of things most commonly encountered at the library.  This tool may be especially helpful for children with speech disabilities who need to communicate through images rather than written words.  London Public Library has several Communication boards available at their libraries, available to view online at: http://www.londonpubliclibrary.ca/node/219 .

Target Group  For use with people who cannot speak or have speech that is difficult to understand and who are familiar with using these types of augmentative devices.

Models  Boardmaker, Overboard

Links             Enablemart 


Dwell and Click Software

Description  Dwell and Click Software is designed for use with an alternative mouse or pointing device.  It allows the user to adjust the size, shape or image of the cursor and make it easier to see and locate images. To 'click', the user simply places the cursor at the desired location for an adjustable, set amount of time.  Some are designed for use with specific types of alternate mouse (e.g. single switch).  Many allow for audio or visual feedback.

Target Group  For people who have difficulty with fine motor control. For people who have difficulty in seeing the cursor or images displayed on the monitor.

Models   QualiClick (Free 30 day trial available), SmartClick, Magic Cursor 2000

Links             Enablemart 

Special Needs Computer Solutions 



Braille Translation Software

Description  Translates printed text into Braille format, and vice versa.  A Braille proof-reader is recommended to ensure accuracy.  Different levels of Braille exist (Grade 1, Grade 2) and this should be kept in mind when purchasing software.  Users who are blind may wish to use this software to access materials in the library.  Library staff may wish to use this technology in order to be able to assess Braille materials that the library receives or to produce  documents in Braille.

Target Group  For people who are blind or have low vision and who read Braille.

Models  Duxbury and GOODFEEL have a few products, Megadots, NFBTRANS

Links             CNIB





Large Print Keyboard/Keytop Labels

Description  Labels or stickers that can be applied to a standard keyboard to increase the size of the characters on the keys and make them easier to see.  Some have high contrast background colours to further enhance visibility.  Library users with low vision or a learning disability will be able to see the keys more easily.  An inexpensive alternative for libraries that have limited need for a large print keyboard. 

Target Group  For people with vision or learning disabilities.

Models  ZoomCaps labels

Links             Enablemart 

Neil Squire 

Special Needs Computer Solutions 



Braille Keyboard/Keytop Labels

Description  Labels with Braille dots that can be applied to keyboard keys.  Transparent stickers allow users who cannot read Braille to see the letters underneath.  For libraries that have a limited need for a Braille keyboard and want the keyboard to also be accessible to those who cannot read Braille. 

Target Group  For people with vision disabilities who can read Braille.

Links             Enablemart 


Book Holder/Reading Stand

Description  Offers library patrons hands-free reading.  Adjustable and allows the user to turn pages easily while holding the book in place.  Many have adjustable pegs to hold the book in place; adjusts to fit thick or thin books.  For users who are unable to hold a book without assistance. For users who have difficulty turning the pages of a book, see page turners (in the "hardware" section).

Target Group  For people with physical disabilities.

Models  LEVO Book Holder, Roberts Book holder

Links             Special Needs Computer Solutions 




Description  For computers with voice output. Headphones may be used to control the noise level in the library and enable the user to focus on the voice output provided.  For hygiene reasons, patrons may be asked to bring their own headphones or the library may sell them.  Headphone/microphone combination may be preferable when using voice input technology.

Target Group  For people using any technology with voice output.

Models  IOGEAR Wireless Stereo Headphones with microphone

Links             Enablemart 

Special Needs Computer Solutions 


Handheld or Clip-On Pocket Magnifier

Description  An affordable alternative for libraries with limited need for magnifiers.  Generally small, handheld or clip-on, or may come with a stand.  They do not offer the flexibility and precision of the CCTV’s but can still make library materials accessible to many patrons with low vision.  They can be used with a variety of print materials and are easy to use.  Typically provide magnification between 2 and 4 times the original size.  Some contain a battery-powered light.  Libraries may consider loaning these tools.  For libraries requiring more sophisticated technology, a CCTV or handheld video magnifier may be appropriate. 

Target Group  For people with low vision.

Models  Eschenbach,

Links             CNIB



Magnifying Lamp

Description  Magnifies and provides light for patrons with low vision.  Stationary and larger than a pocket magnifier.  Generally contains long, sturdy and/or flexible arm and may come with more than one lens.  Magnification levels typically range from 3x to 5x.  Desk or floor model.  May have a base or be attached to a desk, wall or other stationary object with an adjustable clamp. 

Target Group  For people with low vision.

Models  Dainolite

Links             CNIB



Description Used with speech-to-text software or with other alternative input devices that use speech.  Certain microphones are recommended for use with particular voice-to-text software for best results.  Microphones that automatically locate the direction of the speaker and steer towards the speaker are easier to use for patrons with physical disabilities who may not be able to adjust or get close to a microphone.  Combined headphone/microphone headsets are generally most comfortable and easy to use.  For speech-to-text technology to work well in a library setting with background noise, microphones should offer noise cancelling capability. 

Target Group  For people with learning, physical or vision disabilities. 

Models  Voice Tracker Array Microphone, GN Contour LX-G

Links             Enablemart 

Special Needs Computer Solutions  



Portable Assistive Listening Device/Sound Amplifier/Amplification System

Description  Assists the user to hear by amplifying the sound closest to the listener and blocking potentially distracting background sound and noises.  Often includes 3 pieces: a rechargeable amplifier, a speaker unit and a microphone. Helps make listening to presentations, personal conversations or television programming easier.

Target Group  For people with hearing or learning disabilities who do not have their own assistive listening device.

Models  Pocket Talker, ChatterVox

Links             Enablemart   

Special Needs Computer Solutions 


Hand-held Pen Scanner/Personal Reading Assistant

Description  Reads and stores text and numbers. Scans images. May be used to take notes. Very small and portable; may be used with a computer or independently.  Certain models are able to scan, store, define, hear and transfer text to a PC, PDA or Smartphone.  Some models provide voice synthesis using text-to-speech technology.  Some allow for word insertion.  Some models provide translation as well as help with comprehension. Some allow for various font sizes to be displayed and for inverting text on contrasting backgrounds to help patrons with low vision. Battery powered. 

Target Group  For people with learning disabilities; some devices may have features suitable for individuals with low vision.

Models  Superpen, InforScan, Quicklink Pen Elite

Links             Secrest Resources Canada 




Description  A keyguard is a hard plastic cover for a standard computer keyboard.  It covers the surface of the keyboard and prevents a user with an unsteady finger or pointing device from accidentally activating unwanted keys.  May be available in a variety of colours.  Can be a part of an alternative keyboard or acquired separately for use on standard keyboards.

Target Group  For people with physical disabilities who have difficulty using a standard keyboard.

Models  Intellikeys, Fl4SH Colour Keyguards

Links             Neil Squire Solutions