Testing with Assistive Technology

When to Test With Assistive Technology (AT)

Learning how to use AT represents a considerable investment, but in some situations this is justified.

  • Responding to a complaint: You have received a complaint about a barrier in your information technology (IT) that a user experienced while using a specific AT. Use that AT to understand the barrier and to test the fixes.

  • IT Importance: You have an IT that is extremely important to the university and is going to be widely disseminated. The accessibility of the IT has been automatically and functionally tested but you want to make sure that it is also tested with a range of AT.

In some cases it is important to the university to test with AT but you do not have the resources. In such a case, provide the details inĀ our Assistive Technology Support form.

Assistive Technologies

Screen readers

Screen readers are software programs that allow blind or visually impaired users to read the text that is displayed on the computer screen with a speech synthesizer or braille display. A screen reader is the interface between the computer's operating system, its applications, and the user.

JAWS (Windows): a long time leader, so many of the users who need this functionality will be using JAWS. It has a steep learning curve, but you should be able to get started with the JAWS Quick Start from WebAIM. It is pretty expensive, but it is installed in all U-M public computers and you can use U-M Virtual Sites to access it.

NVDA (Windows): open source newcomer, may be more common amongst younger users. It is free to download. WebAIM has a good introduction to testing with NVDA.

VoiceOver (MacOS): comes with desktop and mobile Apple operating systems (macOS and iOS). WebAIM offers a quick VoiceOver introduction. Most use of VoiceOver takes place in a mobile context (iOS).


Used by users with a variety of low vision conditions to magnify the screen. All operating systems and browsers allow you to do this to some extent and this may be enough to test. U-M provides access to the leader in this field, ZoomText, which you can also access via U-M Virtual Sites. WebAIM has a quick introduction to testing with ZoomText.

Text to speech

Users with a variety of cognitive and learning disabilities benefit from a variety of tools that offer alternate channels and filters for textual information. Read & Write (Windows and macOS) is licensed and supported at the university and is available for personal use to any current U-M student, faculty, or staff member. The BBC has a good introduction to testing with Read & Write.

Speech input

Users with mobility disabilities may use software that helps them dictate and operate desktop and mobile operating systems via voice commands. Most operating systems have this capacity natively to some degree. But users who depend on this will be using Dragon NaturallySpeaking. This assistive technology may have the steepest learning curve of all, as the software needs to be trained to understand the voice of a specific user. WebAIM has a short introduction to Dragon NaturallySpeaking.