Accessibility hardware

Here are some examples of accessibility aids that can help make using your computer easier.

Keyboards

Keyboard stickers can be stuck onto individual keys of a standard computer keyboard. The lettering on the stickers is large and bold. Different colours are available. A set of stickers costs from £7. Bump-ons are also useful tactile markers, and are available in different colours and shapes; a set of six costs from £1.20.

Large print keyboards can either:

  • Have standard sized keys, with the characters printed on each key are larger. They come in a variety of colour combinations and prices start from £24.
  • Have physically larger keys, making the keyboard itself larger. They may differ from standard keyboard layouts, and are not recommended if you plan to learn to touch-type.

You can also buy a "skin" for some keyboards. This is a plastic overlay that fit onto a standard keyboard but which has larger print for each key.

Monitors

Increasing the size of screen text or using screen magnification software means less can be fitted onto the screen. A simpler way to get more text on the screen is to increase its size. You can specify a larger monitor when you buy a computer, or add one later. Laptops can be connected to larger monitors Screen sizes of 19 inch or 21 inch are now considered standard, and you can buy monitors of up to 32 inches in many shops.

Monitors vary vastly in price depending on their size. Large monitors are widely available from high street retailers.

Another way to slightly increase the size of what appears on a monitor is to place a magnifying filter in front of it. This can also help to reduce the amount of glare from a computer screen due to an anti-reflective coating.

Braille displays

An electronic braille display is a tactile device that is placed under a conventional computer keyboard and enables the user to read the contents of the computer screen by touch in braille. They are also known as paperless, soft or refreshable braille displays and have up to 80 braille cells.

Each cell has 6 or 8 pins made of metal or nylon, which are electronically controlled to move up and down, to display a braille version of characters that appear on the computer screen. Braille displays are driven by a screen reader, as described on the Software for computers page. The top six pins form the Braille character, and the seventh and eighth dots can show additional information like formatting or the location of the cursor.

Above each cell is a touch cursor which can be used to move the insertion point to that location. This means you can be reading some text, notice a spelling mistake, and move the cursor to the mistake before moving your hands to the keyboard to correct it.

The displays have additional controls which can be used to move around the screen, reading whichever part you wish, and this reduces the need to keep switching back and forth between the display (for reading) and the keyboard (for everything else). They may also have input keys so that you can enter text and commands without having to move your hands to the keyboard. Some devices include notetaking and other facilities and can be disconnected from a computer and used independently.

Braille can provide layout and other information more effectively than speech. A spelling mistake, for example, is often more obvious on a braille display than hearing mispronunciation amongst a lot of speech. It is sometimes said that speech is for speed and braille is for accuracy. For many people braille is a natural way of working, and is an essential medium for deafblind people.

Braille displays are very expensive. A 40 cell display will cost in the region of £1900 from suppliers such as RNIB, Humanware or Sight and Sound.

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