Historically, cost and other factors often prevented people from having access to assistive technologies and accessibility tools that could greatly improve their ability to consume and contribute to the digital world — and certainly that is still very true in too many cases. However, there are many powerful accessibility tools available right now at little or no cost, and it seems like more are being developed every day.
Here are just a few of the free assistive technologies and accessibility tools you can start using today.
NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access) is a free screen reader developed by the not-for-profit organization NV Access. NVDA is open source, so it is contributed to and improved by a global community. Their manifesto touts “access to technology no matter your language, location or financial situation.” NVDA is available on computers running Windows.
VoiceOver is a screen reader that comes standard on every iPhone, Mac, Apple Watch, and Apple TV. It is gesture-controlled, so by touching, dragging, or swiping users can hear what’s happening on screen and navigate between elements, pages, and apps.
TalkBack is a Google screen reader that comes included on Android devices. It is part of the Android Accessibility Suite along with Switch Access and Select to Speak.
Smartphones. Smart homes. Smart TVs. Smart you-name-its. Many of these devices come standard with voice-powered assistants that can make calls, send messages, find directions, and much more by actively listening for spoken commands. As these voice assistants have become so mainstream so quickly, some of us may not think of Siri or Bixby as assistive technology — but think of how the convenient for one person can be the essential for another.
Video calling has become a great way for people to communicate face-to-face no matter the distance. But this alternative to voice or written communication is not only a nice-to-have — for those who can’t or prefer not to communicate by voice, sound, or written language, video calling gives those who communicate by sign language or expression the ability to have instant communication.
High contrast settings
Adjusting the contrast of text and content is helpful for some and necessary for others. While free tools may be limited in features and options compared to more robust contrast tools, most desktop and mobile devices have contrast settings that can be easily enabled and disabled. Usually, a quick search for turning on and off high contrast mode for the particular device will show exactly how to find and change these settings.
Seeing AI is a free app created by Microsoft that uses a device’s camera to narrate what it sees. Seeing AI can read text, recognize products, describe people, perceive color, and a lot more. As Microsoft says on the Seeing AI product page, it’s “turning the visual world into an audible experience.”
a11y® Color Contrast Accessibility Validator
The a11y® Color Contrast Accessibility Validator is a free color contrast analysis provided by the Bureau of Internet Accessibility. Meeting color contrast minimums is one of the most important accessibility considerations that should not be overlooked.
Free Website Accessibility Scan
You can request a free and confidential accessibility scan of your website provided by the Bureau of Internet Accessibility.