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Accessibility.Blog

Why Developers Must Consider Alternate Input Devices for Web Accessibility

August 27, 2018 9:56:53 AM EDT

When it comes to alternate input devices and WCAG 2.1 compliance, developers should:

  • Be sure all elements of the website are accessible via a keyboard
  • Be sure there are no time limits incorporated into the website.

When developing their websites for accessibility, many organizations focus on assistive technologies for output — screen readers, screen magnifiers, and braille displays — these help users understand content on websites. Yet, other input devices receive comparatively little attention.

A variety of alternate input devices suitable for a variety of different situations are available to computer users with disabilities. For instance, those with physical and motor disabilities that cause tremors or lack of muscle control may find it difficult or impossible to use a computer with the standard keyboard and mouse. Alternate input devices give such users a way to interact with computers.

What Are Alternate Input Devices?

The list of alternate input devices for using a computer include:

  • Mouth sticks: Perhaps the simplest form of assistive technology, mouth sticks are long, thin wands held in the mouth and used to type on a keyboard or manipulate a trackball.
  • Head pointers: Head pointers are used similarly to mouth sticks except that the wand is attached to the head rather than held in the mouth.
  • Switches: People with very limited motor abilities can use a switch with a limited set of inputs to use a computer. By pressing the switch multiple times, the user can cycle through various options for navigation and input.
  • Voice recognition software: Using alternate input devices to type characters one by one can be slow or difficult for people with certain types of disabilities. Many users prefer to take advantage of voice recognition software instead, which translates a user’s speech into words on the screen.
  • Alternate keyboards: Some keyboards have labels in large print to accommodate people with low vision. Others have keys that are lowered, not raised, to make it easier for users to place their finger on the right key.

Alternate Input Devices and WCAG

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are the world’s most widely used and recognized set of recommendations for web accessibility. WCAG includes several recommendations that are relevant for users of alternate input devices:

  • All of the website’s functionality must be accessible using only the keyboard.
  • Using only the keyboard, users can focus on and navigate away from website elements.
  • All of the website’s functionality must be accessible using only the keyboard, without requiring specific timings for individual keystrokes (such as a keyboard shortcut that must be executed within a certain time limit).

What Web Developers Should Know About Alternate Input Devices

As outlined by the WCAG recommendations above, all important elements of your website such as forms and links should be accessible using only the keyboard. However, accommodating alternate input devices during web development involves a few additional concerns.

Because alternate input devices may require more time to use than a standard keyboard and mouse, you should avoid creating content with a time limit unless absolutely necessary. Your site should also provide helpful error messages that inform users how to fix a problem with their input.

Final Thoughts

Alternate input devices are crucial in order to give people with physical and motor disabilities full access to the internet. To learn more about how you can satisfy the needs of your users with disabilities, find the latest news and updates on the Bureau of Internet Accessibility blog, or schedule a free 30-minute consultation with our team of web accessibility experts.

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