Adaptive technology is hardware or software used by people with disabilities to facilitate technological access and use. Adaptive technologies have helped bridge the gap between those who suffer with disabilities and those who do not.

Many innovative forms of technologies have been created to assist those who are visually impaired or those who suffer from motoric disabilities.

Adaptive Technologies can be divided into two groups:
  • Adaptive Technology Products
    • products that enable people with or without disabilities to perform better in their daily lives.
    • it can be used to enhance current physical and mental abilities or replace abilities that are not available or had been lost
    • Ex. Optical Character Recognition, Display-based personal data assistants, screen magnifiers, speech synthesizers.
  • Adaptive Technology Services
    • services that help people seeking adaptive technology products to choose the best suited product in order to provide the best help the user
    • Ex. Adaptive Technology Resource Centre (University of Toronto).
A common misconception on adaptive technology is that it is only suitable for those who have disabilities. Adaptive technology can in fact be beneficial to people who are able-bodied. An example would be the use of hearing aids that supports noise cancelling technology can help people hear better in a noisy environment.

Types of Adaptive Technologies

Screen Readers:

Screen readers (commonly used name for “Voice Output Technology”), help those who are visually impaired perceive messages. They are used to replace the visual display traditionally viewed on a monitor. “JAWS” (for Windows), is a very popular screen reader that works with a PC to provide those with visual disabilities access to software applications and the Internet. JAWS essentially functions by reading aloud text displayed on a screen. As the user moves their mouse in the windows environment, any text that they hover over is read audibly. The University of Toronto, Mississauga Campus has JAWS loaded on many of its windows lab computers in the CCIT building. In addition to being helpful for the visually impaired, this development is helpful with a number of other disabilities such as dyslexia.
external image JAWS-webimage.jpg
JAWS, a screen reader for the visually impaired

Alternative Keyboards:

Alternative keyboards assist those with motoric disabilities by avoiding repetitive strain injuries in the hands. An example of such a technology is “Big Keys Plus”. This keyboard consists of large keys, more specifically one inch square and four times larger than standard keys. Another key feature is that the keys “are available in colour in the standard QWERTY layout or an easy to use ABC format for children, and white with black lettering for adults and the visually impaired.

external image keyboard.jpg
Big Keys Plus offers larger keys to assist those with motoric disabilities


Stretch a adaptive project done by the Adaptive Technology Research Centre of Toronto in attempt to change the way art is perceived. Traditional visual art requires the ability to see while music required the ability to listen. Stretch attempts to cancel out these boundaries.

With traditional mediums, certain groups of individuals are left out when it comes to experiencing art. The hearing impaired are not able to hear music while the visually impaired are not able to view art. Stretch attempts to join the boundaries that prevent these users from experiencing art.

Once completed, Stretch will enable hearing impaired people to view music as an alternative to listening to it. Visually impaired will be able to hear art instead of looking at art.

Signing Web

Signing Web is a website that was created in to attempt enable sign language be used as a medium of communication on the Internet. Currently, text based website dominate the web thus requiring users to read lines and lines of text in order to obtain information. Signing Web attempts to provide an alternative to those who prefer to use a more visual based communication that text based medium is not able to provide.

The website was created using a software called "Signlink Studio" that enables web authors to import videos, add signlinks, add optional English Text and exporting webpages onto the Web.

The current website is an example of how the signing web technology could be use to provide accessibility to those who prefer to use sign language and not read texts.

Use of Adaptive Technology

Screen readers such as JAWS are well known for their use in observational studies. In laboratories, the observers study the visually impaired closely as they browse online by only listening. Using cameras to capture their facial expressions and their keystrokes, observers note the effectiveness of the screen readers. A good screen reader is Emacspeak, which allows visually impaired users to interact independently and efficiently with the computer.

Braille support, voice recognition, optical character recognition are all ways in which internet and computer use is made more accessible to individuals with disabilities.

External Links

Protection against Repetitive Strain Injuries:

View many more types of Adaptive Technologies: see Technical Glossary
Great Resource Site:

Works Cited

"ASLpah". 2004. The Canadian Hearing Society, marblemedia, Ryerson University and University of Toronto. 27 February 2006.

“Big Key Keyboards”. 2006. Fentek Industries, Inc. 19 February 2006. <>.

“JAWS for Windows”. Freedom Scientific. 19 February 2006. <>.

"Stretch you creativity". University of Toronto. 27 February 2006. <>

“Technical Glossary”. University of Toronto. 19 February 2006. <>.

Images courtesy of:

"What's Assistive Technology?". 27 February 2006. <>