New Technology Makes It Easier to Access Online Content – by Pamela S. Hogle

The attitude toward accessible content is shifting, and more eLearning designers and developers are building easy access into content from the design stage. At the same time, innovative pairings of technology with artificial intelligence apps and bots are making it easier to access online content.

This roundup of new tools complements Surprising Ways AI Can Improve eLearning Accessibility, a Learning Solutions article published in September 2018. It also provides practitioners who value accessibility with new ways to improve the learner experience by making it easier for learners of all backgrounds and abilities to engage with eLearning content.

Early accessibility technology tended to focus on using the host device—apps or adjustable features that made a smartphone easier to use for a person with a visual impairment, for example. Emerging tools facilitate users’ interactions with content, or with the world around them.

Input devices

Gaming took an enormous leap toward greater access and usability with the release of the Xbox Adaptive Controller. This device serves as a hub to connect adaptive devices, such as switches or joysticks. The large controls on the controller, paired with the ability to integrate with adaptive devices, provide many ways for gamers with limited mobility to enjoy a fuller gaming experience.

Staid business users, including eLearning users, haven’t been left behind, either. New means of entering text abound. These range from a variety of stylus or pen-like devices for writing on a special electronic table —or directly on your Microsoft Surface—to voice-controlled options to an app that allows users to tap text in using any surface.

  • Voice-to-text programs, like Dragon, Google Docs Voice Typing, or Windows 10 Speech Recognition, require extensive “training” to recognize an individual’s speech patterns, and they improve with use. A huge plus: the Google Docs and Windows 10 apps are free to users of those platforms.
  • Digital “smart” pens include options built into some laptops, such as the Microsoft Surface Pen or Wacom Bamboo Ink, which allow you to use the screen of a compatible laptop as a sort of writing pad and then convert the “ink” to editable text. Other options, like the Livescribe pens that record spoken text as you write, have been on the market for a while. Wacom has a smart folio, which works as a digital notepad. You can sketch or write on regular notepaper and the folio captures your output and converts it to an editable digital file.

A new twist on voice-to-text

Two new apps from Google put its constantly-improving translation abilities—based on natural language processing—to work interpreting for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

  • Live Transcribe provides a written transcript of a spoken conversation in real time. Using AI-based ASR or automatic speech recognition, the Android app supports 70 languages. You can easily switch between a primary and secondary language, and it allows users to adjust text size and choose a light or dark color scheme. Transcripts are not saved.
  • Sound Amplifier works with the user’s headphones to reduce background noise and make speech easier to hear, with controls to adjust volume, left-right balance, improve voice clarity, and reduce ambient noise.

Reading assistance

Finally, a digital pen assists with reading. Aimed at children with dyslexia or other issues that challenge their reading skills and slow them down, the Read ‘n Style pen glides over text, scanning it and converting it to an audio stream as the reader follows along.

While this technology works with printed materials rather than online, it can be a game-changer for learners of all ages who struggle with written content.

Hearing the text spoken aloud using a Bluetooth earpiece, the pen can help children improve their reading skills, including spelling and reading comprehension. It can also be useful for adults who are less fluent in a language or who have literacy challenges.

Learn how and why to create accessible eLearning

Many eLearning practitioners have long believed that accessible content provides a better experience for all learners. Four accessibility advocates shared their perspectives—and tips for building ease of access into eLearning from the design phase onward—with Guild research director Jane Bozarth. Download Creating Accessible eLearning: Practitioner Perspectives today to learn more.
 

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