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Promoting assistive technologies
Understanding needs

Understanding needs

Author: David Banes, Chief Executive Officer, Mada - Qatar Assistive Technology Center. Edited by James Thurston, Microsoft Trustworthy Computing Group

There are for many users a range of potential barriers for effective use of technology. In this section we are going to divide these into three.

  • Seeing the Screen

  • Physical Access to the Technology

  • Reading and Communication

Initially we need to understand the potential barriers that technology presents.

Seeing the Screen

Many people experience problems with seeing the display used by various forms of technology. The problem can be mild, and acknowledged as an irritant rather than a total barrier, or it can be severe resulting the technology being unusable.

An example of a mild barrier could be exemplified by a user who finds it hard to track the pointer on a computer screen, constantly trying to track the pointer onscreen and peering at the screen to find the focus point. A user with a more severe visual impairment may be totally unable to access text in the screen at all, and be totally dependent on Audio or Braille to access the information contained.

Physical Access to the Technology
Similarly, physical access to technology can present more or less severe challenges. For some users a keyboard and mouse can be manipulated, but as a result of design, size or layout, constant mistakes are made when typing or attempting to point at icons or links. Such frustrations for many can lead to a lack of confidence in one's own abilities and a corresponding lack of motivation to learn new skills and master new competencies. For others with more severe physical needs, a standard keyboard and mouse may be a complete barrier to access. Completely new forms of interface may be required from alternative pointing devices and keyboards to touch screen, voice recognition or alternative systems related to movements and gestures, other than with our hands and arms, such as eyes, tongue or head. 

Reading and Communication
Many of us take for granted that access to technology requires a degree of ability to read and to write. Yet for many, traditional forms of text are in themselves a barrier. Such challenges are as ever either more or less severe. For some users it may be that careful selection of the shape and size of text will have an impact upon ease of reading and legibility, for others blocks of text may be entirely impossible to read, and the ability to translate text into other formats such as audio or graphical symbols may be the only way to ensure that key messages and concepts are communicated and understood.

With this diversity of needs - it will be no surprise to discover that there is an equally wide range of solutions that assistive technologies offer.  

There are in addition other needs that can impact upon the ability of a user to access all the features of technology and digital content. Most notably those of Hearing impairments and learning disabilities.

Information on access to technology for people with a hearing loss can be found at and at

Meeting the needs of people with learning disabilities is a more complex discussion. However it is useful to consider how information is communicated through text, graphics, audio and video. A good example of content that is accessible to users with learning disabilities is

Other factors to take into account in this area include attention disorders, memory deficit, and difficulty in generalizing information.A useful resource in this area can be found at