Free Assistive Technology Software (Yes, Free!)
“Access Tomorrow” Grant Technology Team Members
- Peter Bossley, Office of Research, OSU
- Dave Edyburn, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
- Margo Izzo, Nisonger Center, OSU
- Steve Jacobs, IDEAL Group, Inc.
- Dan Kelley, Ohio State School for the Blind
- Ken Petri, Web Accessibility Center, OSU
- Joe Wheaton, Education and Human Ecology and the Web Accessibility Center, OSU
For more detail on the technologies covered here, see the IDEAL Group’s Access Tomorrow grant technologies resources.
Categories of Disability and Access to Computer Content
- Severe visual impairments, including complete blindness.
- So-called “low vision”
Forms of color blindness/color vision deficiencies (red-green deuteranomaly being the most common (5% of males))
- Typical accommodations: Need for information to not be conveyed solely by color differences.
- Free Solutions: Users of Windows or Mac may alter contrast. For the web, CLC STAR may be useful.
Moderate to severe hearing impairments/deafness
- Typical accommodations: On the web or with video content, synchronized captioning of audio and video, non-audio cuing, text transcripts for audio-only presentations/podcasts. TTY devices and software for text communication via telephone. Text messaging systems of all sorts.
- Free Solutions: Nextalk for TTY
Mobility and motor control disabilities caused by injury (nerve, nerve stress, or loss of limbs)
- Typical accommodations: Users may be accessing computers with switches, pointing devices, such as head-mounted or eye-controlled pointers, or trackballs that do not require fine limb movement. In general, we want to make sure all functionality is available to the keyboard alone, since most of the input devices emulate or directly manipulate the keyboard.
- Free Solutions: Click-n-Type
Mobility and motor control disabilities caused by disease or genetic conditions
- Typical accommodations: Many of the diseases and genetic conditions affecting motor control (Parkinson's Disease, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, arthritis) result in tremors and loss of ability to control hand movement. Track balls, switches, tremor-compensating mice, etc. are often used. Many people with either injury- or disease-related motor disabilities use voice recognition software to perform input, including scrolling, clicking, and moving the mouse.
- Free Solutions: Click-n-Type
Conditions ranging from reading and linguistic disabilities to attention deficits to problem-solving and memory conditions to various forms of learning disabilities.
- Typical accommodations: By far, this is the largest category of disability and affects the most people. The Ohio State University Office for Disability Services registers at least ten times as many students with cognitive disabilities as all other categories of disability combined. Programs that offer word prediction when writing and that can read aloud and highlight text are often used by people with mild to moderate cognitive disabilities. The visual markup, word lookup, and electronic bookmarking facilities that are in sophisticated programs, such as Freedom Scientific WYNN and TextHELP Read and Write Gold are also leveraged.
- Free Solutions: CLiCk, Speak, WordTalk, LetMeType, Power Talk
“Access Tomorrow” Grant Project
The Nisonger Center at The Ohio State University, together with IDEAL Group, Inc., national experts, parents and school personnel are developing a three-tiered model to improve the academic and transition outcomes of high school students with disabilities. This model, called Access Tomorrow, builds upon the Envision IT Curriculum. Envision IT uses the context of the transition from high school to college/employment, emphasizing online exploration of students strengths, needs, skills, and career interests, to teach Information Technology skills that are integrated within Language Arts academic standards.
The Access Tomorrow Model identifies three components needed for improved academic and post-school achievement for students with disabilities. The software discussed below represents the third component of the Access Tomorrow Model. The three components of Access Tomorrow are:
- E-Mentoring Student Curriculum: A new version of the Envision IT curriculum that focuses on the implementation of student-directed transition plans, instructs students in ways to use online communication technologies such as e-mail and discussion boards, and plots a structured relationship between students and mentors that encourages students to reflect on and implement their transition plans.
- Mentor Guide: A guide for mentors that provides the content and awareness that mentors need to support students with disabilities through the school-to-adult life transition process.
- Open Source/Free Infrastructure: A plan and technologies for providing a portable, accessible, low/no cost technology infrastructure to support learning and mentor/mentee communication and interaction.
All of the technologies on this page are being utilized as part of Open Source/Free Infrastructure component of Access Tomorrow. They are being piloted with area public high school students and students at the Ohio State School for the Blind in Columbus, Ohio. As of March, 2008, 12 students with learning and cognitive disabilities, 17 students with moderate to severe visually impairment, three mobility impaired students, and two deaf students have volunteered and begun to work with various of these technologies.
Students are given USB U3 thumb drives set up to automatically load a voiced menu from which students can select the technologies they want to use. All configuration preferences are stored on the drive, not on the computer, for added ease of use and convenience. The drive has been tested and works on any machine that will accommodate U3.
The U.S. Department of Education grant (Grant #H327A060066) funding “Access Tomorrow” has been awarded to the Nisonger Center in partnership with IDEAL Group, Inc. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Education.
Free Assistive Software
This list of software below is not comprehensive. With the exception of System Access To Go, all of these technologies are being piloted as part of the Access Tomorrow grant. We have found some success with all of the software and consider each to be best-of-breed free software.
Fire Vox (Firefox Add-on)
Fire Vox, which, along with CLiCk Speak and CLC STAR, is developed by Charles Chen, is an open source, freely available talking browser extension for the Firefox web browser. Think of it as a screen reader that is designed especially for Firefox. In addition to the basic features that are expected of screen readers, such as being able to identify headings, links, images, etc. and providing navigational assistance, Fire Vox provides support for MathML and CSS speech module properties. It works on Windows, Macintosh, and Linux systems.
CLiCk, Speak (Firefox Add-on)Click, Speak is part of the CLC-4-TTS Suite of products, it features a mouse driven interface, and it reads web pages and sections thereof. CLiCk, Speak is designed for sighted users who want text-to-speech functionality. It doesn't identify elements or announce events - two features that are very important for visually impaired users but very annoying for sighted users. It also has a simplified, mouse driven interface that is designed to be easy for users familiar with point-and-click graphical user interfaces. CLiCk, Speak works on Windows, Macintosh, and Linux.
CLC STAR (Firefox Add-on)
CLC STAR allows users to easily set up preferences for how they want pages presented to them in Firefox. Features include enlarging images, changing font size, foreground/background color, and style, enhancing the cursor focus indicator, adjusting line and word spacing, disabling stylesheets, and disabling background images.
iZoom Web is an advanced, voicing screen magnifier that loads from a web site. It will only work while you are connected to the Web. It has features that compare with popular commercial products such as ZoomText and MAGic.
WordTalk is a free plug-in developed for use with all versions of Microsoft Word (from Word 97 upwards), which can help people with reading difficulties use Microsoft Word more effectively. It will speak and highlight the text of the document as it goes along. It contains a talking dictionary to help decide which word spelling is most appropriate. It is its own toolbar and is highly configurable, allowing you to adjust the highlight colors, the voice and the speed of the speech.
LetMeType is word prediction software. Running in the background, it analyzes what you type. After it has collected enough information, it can guess a word after you have typed only the first two or three letters. A list of the most probable words is displayed, and you can select one with a single keystroke or just continue typing. LetMeType allows you to load your own dictionaries and associate dictionaries with individual instances of LetMeType, so that you can establish vocabularies for particular domains of knowledge. The program will work with most applications, offering completion suggestionsin most any program you happen to be working in.
System Access To Go, made by Serotek, is a full-blown screen reader for Windows that is initiated via the web. It also works as a talking screen magnifier. Linking to the System Access To Go site will begin a process in which the user downloads a small executable and runs it. The executable stays connected to Serotek and loads a screen reader. The software is on the user’s machine until the browser is exited. System Access To Go provides speak aloud access to the Windows desktop, explorer, and menus. It also has scripts that provide full access to many Windows applications, including Office and Internet Explorer.
NVDA stands for Non-Visual Desktop Access. NVDA is a screen reader that provides access to most Windows functionality through synthesized speech. Navigation is accomplished only using the computer keyboard. It is comparable to commercial products, such as JAWS and Window-Eyes.
Power Talk is a free program that automatically speaks any presentation running in Microsoft PowerPoint for Windows. You simply start PowerTalk and open and run your presentation as usual. PowerTalk then speaks the text on your slides. The advantage over other generic 'Text To Speech' programs is that PowerTalk is able to speak text as it appears and can also speak hidden text attached to images. Speech is provided by the standard synthesized computer voices in Windows.
Click-N-Type is a virtual keyboard designed for anyone with a disability that prevents him or her from typing on a physical computer keyboard. So long as the person can control a mouse, trackball or other pointing device, he or she can send keystrokes to virtually any Windows application or DOS application that can run within a DOS window. Click-N-Type is a 32 bit application that requires Windows 95 or later.
NexTalk is a network based system with special provisions for the communication needs of the deaf and hard of hearing, but with advanced communications and messaging features. It is a blending of telephone and computer technologies which links TTY callers with every NexTalk personal computer user on the local and wide area networks. With NexTalk, any TTY call can be answered and then transferred to another NexTalk user or group of users (department).