Workers in virtually all positions, industries, and abilities today are assisted by technology. Increasingly, specialized software programs are not only making it possible for professionals with disabilities to perform jobs that would otherwise prove difficult — perhaps even impossible — but also allowing them to thrive at the office.
Here are five useful applications that enable employees.
- Built-in accessibility software: Both Macintosh and Windows PCs now feature a host of accessibility tools built into their operating systems. For example, each OS can magnify images onscreen and speak text out loud. StickyKeys in Windows helps less-dexterous users to enter commands with a sequence of keystrokes that would otherwise require pressing multiple buttons on the keyboard.
- Pointing Magnifier (Windows; free): Windows offers a basic cursor-magnifier function, but the Pointing Magnifier tool (pictured) developed by researchers at the University of Washington is a big improvement over the baked-in utility. Pointer Magnifier zooms in on the portion of the screen surrounding your cursor. To make a selection, you simply click your mouse to lock the circle in place; you may then move the cursor around inside the locked, enlarged circle.
- Dragon NaturallySpeaking (Windows; $99.99 and up): Dragon’s voice-to-text conversion software is universally regarded as the cream of the crop. Our experiences with the software have been nothing short of excellent, delivering virtually flawless translations even when words were uttered in heavy New England or Southern accents. Editing commands are a breeze, and you can give voice instructions to handle certain tasks, such as opening your web browser and launching a specific website. Nuance, the maker of the Dragon line, offers various voice-recognition apps to fit your particular business needs, but they aren’t cheap: A Mac version, Dragon Dictate, is available for $200.
- Windows Speech Recognition (Windows 7 and Vista; free): Do you already use Windows 7 or Vista? Before you buy Dragon NaturallySpeaking, we recommend trying the Windows Speech Recognition utility that’s built into your PC’s operating system. The utility is highly polished and intuitive, and its accuracy almost rivaled Dragon’s in our tests. That said, once you’ve used Dragon, the handful of voice-to-text errors introduced by this tool can be frustrating, even though they’re still a statistically small number. WSR also supports voice navigation commands, which work best with Microsoft programs.
- Proloquo2Go (iOS; $189.99): The massive devices that speak typed thoughts aloud for people with speech impairments cost thousands of dollars. This iOS app provides users with a voice for a fraction of the cost. The intuitive, icon-based sentence-construction system works well for communicating basic thoughts, but some users complain that it’s too simplistic for workplace use. That being said, Proloquo2Go allows users to input custom commands and frequently used sentences that can then be spoken out loud, which give it more capabilities than are visible at first.
Does your business use any enabling applications? Please share your experiences and suggestions in the Comments field below!