Person typing on a keyboard

While assistive technologies—like voice recognition—are beneficial for everyone, they’re a necessity for some. Many people rely on an assistive technology to simply engage with the web, which means they need to use the same technology to take e-learning courses. There are a variety of technologies out there and it’s important to have a basic knowledge of what they are and how they work so you can design courses that work for all learners.

To help you get familiar with the most common assistive technologies, we wrote this article outlining what they are, who uses them, and how to access them.  

Screen Readers

Screen readers are apps that announce visual and textual content out loud as the user navigates, often with a keyboard instead of a mouse. 

Screen readers were originally designed for users with a vision impairment, but they can also be beneficial for people with learning disabilities like dyslexia and ADHD, as they help reduce visual distractions. 

Most operating systems have a built-in screen reader. For example, iOS devices use VoiceOver and Windows devices have Narrator. However, the most common screen readers, NVDA and JAWS, are third-party screen readers available for online download. 

Refreshable Braille Displays

Someone using a refreshable braille display

(Image source)

Refreshable braille displays are electronic devices that continuously raise and lower a set of 6 to 8 pins to translate the on-screen content into braille. In most cases, braille displays rely on screen readers to provide them with content. However, some of the newer models work autonomously. 

Refreshable braille displays are commonly used by people who are blind, have low vision, or are deafblind and know how to read braille. 

Screen Magnifiers

Screen magnifiers are apps that enlarge content on a screen, making small objects more visible. People can use either a mouse or a keyboard to indicate which part of the screen they’d like to enlarge. 

People with low vision tend to be the main users of screen magnifiers, but they’re helpful to anyone who wants to be able to zoom in on things. 

Most of the time, screen magnifiers are used with screen readers, however, you typically have to download them separately. ZoomText and SuperNova are the most common third-party screen magnifiers.

Adaptive Keyboards

Someone using a one-handed keyboard

One-Handed Keyboard (Image source)

An adaptive keyboard is any keyboard that caters to a specific need. There are many kinds of adaptive keyboards. For example:

  • Ergonomic keyboards help with muscle strain. 
  • Braille keyboards work using braille dots.
  • Chording keyboards have a small number of keys that—when pressed in different combinations—form words and commands. 
  • On-screen keyboards are software based and built into the operating system. They’re often used along with predictive text.
  • One-handed keyboards make it simple for users to input data with just one hand.
  • Expanded keyboards include a raised area between keys.

Adaptive keyboards are beneficial for users with mobility impairments, hearing impairments, and vision impairments. 


The assistive technologies mentioned above aren’t the only ones out there, but they’re the most common. Other assistive technologies include:

  • Mouth sticks and head wands are used as an alternative way to select keys on the keyboard when people have limited hand mobility.
  • Sip-and-puff switches are used to control devices by inhaling and exhaling. For example, sip-and-puff switches could be used to control a computer or an Augmentative and Alternative Communication System.
  • Eye-tracking devices help people control computers using sensors that track eye movement and move the cursor based on the user’s eye movement.
  • Speech recognition software translates spoken words into a language that computers can understand. People use speech recognition software to type, enter data into a form, and navigate web pages. Speech Recognition is included with Windows and Voice Control with macOS and iOS, but the accurate speech recognition software is Dragon NaturallySpeaking
  • EnChroma Color Blind Glasses help people with color blindness see colors that they normally can’t see very well or at all.
  • Browser Plugins like Color Enhancer and Vision adjust the appearance of web pages by applying a color filter to improve the color perception for people with partial color blindness. 
  • Augmentative and Alternative Communication Systems give people who can’t use verbal speech to communicate an alternative way to get their message across. Often, they’re apps on mobile devices or computers. 


There are many different tools that make tasks possible or easier for people with disabilities. It’s important for us—as course authors—to be aware of the assistive technologies our learners might be using to access our courses so we can ensure everything works as expected. Stay tuned for another article with tips on how to do just that!

Looking for more help creating courses that work for all your learners? Be sure to check out all the helpful resources in this article series: All About Accessibility.

And remember to follow us on Twitter and come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning. If you have any questions, please share them in the comments.

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