Staff Assistive Technology

This web page is for UCD Staff. UCD Access & Lifelong Learning in collaboration with UCD IT Services have established an IT Accessibility Pilot Project, to explore ways of creating awareness of Assistive Technology for staff in UCD and how it can assist UCD staff in their work.

Show/hide contentOpenClose All

Assistive Technology (AT) is defined as "any use of technology which helps you perform a task more easily".

Assistive Technology covers a broad range of devices from a magnifying glass, to the complex technologies of voice recognition allowing a user to speak and their words being typed for them, or enabling them to control a device, to optical character recognition, where printed words are processed via a scanning device enabling them to be read out.

Assistive Technology is developing at an immense rate, and the use of mobile devices such as iPhones and iPads, or their Android or Windows based alternatives are coming with some powerful Assistive Technology built in to them. Apps for these devices must meet certain standards which enable easy interaction for users using the accessibility functions on their devices. A good example is our own UCD App available in the iTunes and Google Play stores.

The aim of this page is to highlight the many helpful applications that are available. Information will focus on both licensed software and freeware. The applications listed below are either licensed to the University, or are freely available. Application descriptions and links to user guides are provided.

Please contact itheldesk@ucd.ie if you have any queries.

 We have broken the page down into a number of categories. Some tools fall into more than one category, but we have only mentioned them once. Tools for users with visual impairment are contained within Tools to assist with the Reading of content.

Everyone can benefit from these simple adjustments that make your computer more comfortable to use. All Windows based machines have an ease of use centre were lots of inbuilt accessibility tips can be found. For more info on how to use the ease of use option within Windows 7 please click here, for information on Windows 10 please click here.

Android and Apple devices such as iPhones and iPads have powerful accessibility functions built in, and enable the device to be used by customers with visual impairment very easily.

To enable these functions on an iOs device, please click here.

To enable these functions on an Android device, please click here.

Windows Magnification:

Commercial magnifiers offer many features that you won't find in a free option, like the ability to magnify the screen before logging on. The free options are aimed at people who need only a relatively low level of magnification and mainly use the mouse.

The free applications often have no installation process or they have an installation process that does not require administrator privileges. This means they can be easily used on a public computer, or even run from a pen drive plugged into a computer. You should always check with the owner of a computer before doing this.

  • Lightning Express

One of the restrictions of Windows Magnifier is that it has no full screen mode before Windows 7, and only in Windows 8 does it work with all colour settings. The big plus of Lightning Express is that it gives full screen magnification. It works with 32-bit versions of Windows XP, Vista and 7, and with desktop apps in Windows 8. A significant limitation of Lightning Express is that it has to be downloaded or run from the Internet each day.

Click here to find out more about and download Lightning Express.

  • Desktop Zoom

Desktop Zoom works with Windows XP, 2000, Vista and 7. It has keyboard control for many of its options, which include mouse pointer size and shape enhancements, and speech output using the Windows voice. There are also some unusual features, such as the ability to turn off by moving the mouse pointer to the bottom right corner of the screen.

Desktop Zoom isn't as reliable as Magnifier or Lightning Express. Keyboard tracking and text smoothing don't work smoothly and zoom level settings are difficult to set. At high levels of magnification, smoothing and general movement deteriorate. 

Click here to find out more about and download Desktop Zoom.

Windows Speech:

There are a number of free text-to-speech applications which can read out emails or documents. They will leave out lots of visual information such as if text is bolded or an email has an attachment, and are therefore not very useful if you need to use a computer but can't see the screen. Software that reads out this additional information is called a screen reader, and that is what this section covers.

  • NVDA

NVDA (Non-Visual Desktop Access) is the most popular free screen reader. It is an open-source program that comes in portable and installer versions. The portable version can be run from a pen drive without any installation. NVDA uses the eSpeak synthesizer which includes UK regional accents. It works on Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8, where it supports touch screens. It also supports ARIA-enabled web pages. NVDA has support for the basic features of Windows, Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox, and a growing support for Microsoft Office.

Click here to find out more about and download NVDA.

  • Window-Eyes for users of Microsoft Office

Windows Eyes for Office is freely available to UCD staff members in conjunction with licensed installations of Microsoft Office. Similar to NVDA above, it does not have a multitude of options included, but is a powerful screen reader in its own right.

Click here to find out more about and download Window-Eyes for users of Microsoft Office.

  • Microsoft Speech Platform voices

The voices used by free screen readers may not appeal at first, as they can seem quite robotic. Voices may grow on you, or they may have other benefits such as responsiveness or staying understandable at high speech rates. If you want to explore other voices, Microsoft's Speech Platform and voices are free, or you can buy more human-sounding voices from any vendor of commercial screen readers.

One way to get the Microsoft voices is via the GW Microsoft's website:

  1. Go to gwmicro.com/voices.
  2. Find the heading "Microsoft Speech Platform Downloads" at the bottom of the page and read the instructions. 
  3. In the combo box used to select a voice, the English voices start with "en".
  • Texthelp Read & Write Gold

Texthelp Read and Write is developed for users with literacy issues, and has been designed with dyslexia in mind. It is available in the Software Downloads section of UCD Connect. It consists of a suite of tools that can assist customers in reading text and creating documents. It operates as a floating toolbar and works seamlessly within Windows applications, such as Microsoft Word and Internet Explorer.

The most commonly used feature in Texthelp is the Read Out Loud Tool, which is used to read text and can be used to proof read content. Other tools included are a spellchecker, dictionary, a tool to convert notes into MP3, colour screening and predictive text.

An example of Texthelp in action can be viewed here.

  • Google Speech Recognition.

This is a new tool available in Google Docs as an add in. It allows users to create documents in Google Docs by using their microphone. Simply speak, and Google Docs types the words you speak. For a free tool, this application is very good at what it does. However, with all these tools, there may be some limitations. Very strong accents may not be detected properly, and the tool uses Google Translate, with an internet connection to understand words. Response times will depend on your own internet connection.

For more information, and how to install the application, please click here.

  • WAVE.

WAVE is  a tool to help web developers make their web content more accessible. WAVE cannot tell you if your web content is accessible. Only a human can determine true accessibility. But, WAVE can help you evaluate the accessibility of your web content. WAVE is available as a plugin extension for both Chrome and Firefox.

For more information, and how to get the extension for Chrome or Firefox, please click here.

  • Microsoft Office Accessibility Checker.

Available in Microsoft Office 2010 and above as standard, just like the spelling checker tells you about possible spelling errors, Accessibility Checker in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint tells you about possible accessibility issues in your Office file so you can fix these issues so someone with a disability can read and get to your content.

For more information, and how to access the Accessibility Checker in Microsoft Office, please click here.

These applications are designed to allow users visualise thoughts and process ideas. They are intended to assist users who can find it difficult to keep their train of thought, or sometimes are unsure of how to proceed if they encounter an unexpected event in a process.

Mind42 is a web-based mind mapping tool that supports brainstorming, collaboration and organizing ideas. Its features include collapsible branches that allow for focus, and the ability to export your mind map into a structured document.

Cogi is a free voice recording app that is available for both Android and Apple iOS. Its intuitive interface allows you to bookmark important information in meetings or lectures that you can listen back to later.