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BEACON Senior News

How to make use of tech's accessibility features

Apr 26, 2023 12:10PM ● By Adam Cochran

Some members of my family have a number of physical, mental and emotional limitations. There are congenital disorders, autoimmune issues, critical injuries from accidents, mental challenges and a wide variety of complicated medical mysteries.

Although I am one of the most unaffected people in my family, I have often thought about how much I would hate to be referred to as “disabled” if I were permanently hobbled in some way. In fact, I think that being called “handicapped” would be my label of choice.

If I lost the use of my arms, legs or eyes, it wouldn’t bother me if people said those particular parts were disabled, because they would be permanently out of commission. But the particular ailment would be my handicap, and I would still be able to function in any capacity that did not require the full use of the broken parts.

I subscribe to the philosophy that we are all disabled, handicapped or otherwise limited in some way. The tech world uses the word “accessibility” to refer to adjustments, modifications and features that make devices and software adaptable to people with limitations. 

Few people recognize how difficult technology can be for people with limitations. I remember watching my brother play a flight simulator when he was little. He was flying directly toward the dirt runway, but he couldn’t see it because the runway was brown and the surrounding grass was green. That’s how I recognized that he was colorblind.

Now an adult, he builds home theaters and sound systems and works with audio and video wiring. He often works in dimly lit conditions where the differences in color are imperceptible. But, he is able to do it using apps on his phone that identify the colors for him.

Give it a try

Technology can even assist with mental limitations. Most of the biggest names in tech and healthcare are developing technology such as smart glasses, apps and augmented reality headsets that allow people whose brains are wired differently or chemically off balance to better interpret and interact with the world around them.

People with delusional schizophrenia have been known to use their cellphone cameras or smart glasses to identify which things they see and hear are real and which are constructs of their condition.

Technology is often used to overcome a limitation without us even realizing it. Have you ever taken a picture of the directions on a pill bottle so that you could zoom in on the image to read the tiny print? Have you ever taken a picture of a sign showing the dimensions of a piece of furniture so you could remember it later?

In my mind, the entire purpose of technology should be to help us overcome limitations. And, when possible, help us exceed the abilities of the average human.

Accessible tips and tricks

Many of the accessibility features built into your computer or smartphone are extremely useful for anyone. 

Go into your device’s accessibility options and you will find that you can adjust the speed of the double-click on your mouse, the size of the mouse arrow, or turn on a magnifier that can make the area around your mouse (or where you put your finger on your smartphone) larger. 

There are accessibility options that give you audio indicators for visual features and visual indicators for audio features.

If you find that your cursor jumps around while you are typing on your laptop, you can adjust the sensitivity of your touchpad or make it so that tapping on it doesn’t make the cursor move.

There are also cool features such as a screen reader that audibly reads everything on your screen. Other features allow your computer or phone to type whatever you speak.

There are a lot of concerns about the ability of technology to replace humans, but computers and technology are also allowing humans to be more equal than ever. The more we learn to implement technology as a tool and allow it to augment our limitations, the more we can focus on implementing our humanity into a world saturated with technology.

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