Specialized software and hardware that addresses the unique needs of a diverse user base, including individuals with disabilities, are always in development. But what types of software are available?
This article will take a look at open source and other software and the various ways they can be used to improve accessibility.
Why use free and open source software?
Open source means that the code comprising the software program can be accessed by anyone, reducing both the likelihood of hidden malicious code and the vulnerability to exploits.
Standard free and paid software may come with restrictions on how it can be used and may have limited compatibility. But free and open source (FOSS) software often has fewer restrictions regarding use and is available on multiple platforms.
Open source projects are usually volunteer-led efforts, often managed by a single developer or small community. While some can't provide support or any guarantees regarding functionality, other open source projects are stable, well-known, and well-supported by an active community, making them worthwhile alternatives to commercial options.
There is a wide range of software and hardware tools available that provide alternative means of accessing digital content. These can be useful for users with disabilities, accessibility testing, and for anyone else who would benefit from an alternative means of accessing content.
Most operating systems have built-in screen reading or text-to-speech features, but the following tools serve as additional options:
ChromeVox – A cross-platform Chrome extension that enables screenreading and may be useful for testing.
Pericles – A screen reading extension for the Firefox web browser, which is available on Windows, Mac OS, and Linux
NVDA – A free screen reading application developed by NV Access for Windows systems.
Mac Voiceover – The built-in screen reader for macOS and iOS devices.
Orca – An open-source screen reader for Linux.
The following software tools provide an on-screen keyboard or other alternatives to a traditional keyboard:
Hunt-n-Peck – A Windows tool that provides an automated UI overlay to assist with navigation.
Dasher – A gesture-based typing system for selecting letters using a pointing device. It's available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
OptiKey – An on-screen keyboard for Windows systems that can be used with a camera or alternate input device.
KeyCastr – A Mac-based tool for visualizing keystrokes and mouse clicks.
GazetheWeb – A beta project being tested for Windows systems to support navigation using eye-tracking.
Open Source Hardware
Increased availability of and access to 3D printing helps reduce expenses associated with adaptive equipment. Makers Making Change provides plans for adaptive devices and a matchmaking service to match individuals requesting items with printer owners. Open-source hardware describes design plans that are freely available to download and use, such as these curated by All3DP.
Software archives often list additional resources for programs and research services. Alternativeto.net provides a searchable database that includes filters for finding open source and free resources.
Internet Archive provides software archives, but accessibility may be limited since the software selection trends towards older releases. Further information about the archive can be found in Accessibility of Public Domain Resources.
Open Source Blog has a section focused on accessibility issues and developments within the open source community, and the content remains updated as new projects or changes are released.
Testing tools and guidelines are crucial during development and design to ensure content and applications are accessible. The following resources can help ensure your website, application, or other content follows industry standard accessibility design principles:
Free and Open Source Accessibility Compendium – A compilation of easy-to-use guidelines and best practices for accessible software and website design.
Accessibilitysnapshot – Tests for regression or absence of accessibility features in applications for the iOS operating system.
Gtxilib – Google libraries that are used for testing accessibility on iOS devices.
Koa11y – A cross-platform tool that tests webpages for accessibility issues against various standards, including WCAG 2.0 and Section 508 requirements.
Equalify – A WCAG-based error checker that can be integrated into a site.
WCAG EM Report Tool – A tool for generating accessibility test reports based on WCAG standards.
Photosensitive Epilepsy Analysis Tool (PEAT) – A Windows tool for ensuring photosensitive viewers will not be negatively affected by a video or website.
Built-in accessibility features are becoming more and more standard across operating systems and devices, but free, open-source options still have a place. They provide alternatives for those who find built-in options inadequate or who want further control over their own experience.
And the individuals and communities providing free and open source software both contribute to the technological advances that improve the options that are available and help keep accessibility accessible to all.