Assistive Technology Glossary Terms

Technology is everywhere: at home, in the classroom and on the jobsite.

Technology is everywhere: at home, in the classroom and on the jobsite. Traditionally, special devices and software were created specifically for students who are visually impaired/blind; however, recent technological advances are enabling more mainstream devices to include accessibility features.  There are two types of accessibility features: built-in accessibility options and stand-alone products.  

This list of assistive technology glossary terms focuses on accessibility for people who are visually impaired/blind.  Mainstream devices include additional accessibility features for people who have other needs.  A few examples of each type of device/software are listed; this is not a complete list of products nor is it an endorsement of one product over another.

Built-in Accessibility Features

Most mainstream computers, tablets, phones and smart watches have built-in assistive technology features such as magnification, screen readers, font size, color contrast and brightness options.

Stand-Alone Products

There are additional accessibility options, many of which are designed specifically for users who are visually impaired and blind.  These include stand-alone devices such as refreshable braille displays, braille notetakers and CCTVs and stand-alone software such as screen readers and magnification software.

Note:  Many accessibility options that traditionally were stand-alone products are now available as built-in accessibility features; some of these options are also available through apps/software on mainstream devices.  Example:  Traditionally, a CCTV device was used to view the board in the classroom; however, with technological advances, many students are now using a screen-sharing app on their computer or tablet.

Built-in Accessibility Features

Computer Accessibility

Most computers have built-in accessibility settings that include a variety of options such as invert colors, color contrast, font size, magnification and screen readers.

Tablet, Smart Phone, and Smart Watch Accessibility

Most touch screen devices have built-in options that contain varying levels of accessibility such as invert colors, color contrast, font size, pinch-to-zoom, magnification, screen reading, dictation and voice activation options.  Some devices include haptic feedback.

Screen Reader*

Screen reader software programs speak the text that is displayed on the screen.  Screen readers also provide information about icons, menus, buttons, text fields and other visual information on the computer, tablet or phone.  Many mainstream computers, tablets and phones now have built-in screen readers.  Screen reader programs, such as JAWS or NVDA are stand-alone software programs, which can be added to a personal computer.

Examples: JAWS, NVDA, VoiceOver, TalkBack, ChromeVox

Magnification Software*

Users with low vision may choose to use built-in magnification features to increase the font size, pinch-to-zoom and magnification.  Stand-alone magnification software can typically reach higher levels of magnification than built-in magnification.

Note: Users lose efficiency when the screen magnification requires scrolling to read a line of text.  When reading longer texts at this high level of magnification, a screen reader may be the best option.

See Video Magnifiers/Closed Circuit Television for information on stand-alone devices.  

Examples: Zoom Text, MAGic, SuperNova

e-Book Reader*

Electronic-book reader (e-Book) is a handheld electronic device that is designed primarily for reading digital books and periodicals.  An e-book reader can be a mainstream device or a stand-alone device specifically designed for users with visual impairments and blindness.

Examples:  Kindle, Nook, iBooks

Bluetooth keyboard

A Bluetooth keyboard is an external, wireless keyboard that connects and communicates via the Bluetooth protocol.  A Bluetooth keyboard is often paired with a tablet or phone; although, it can also be paired with a computer.  When used with a screen reader, the Bluetooth keyboard has additional commands to improve navigation and keyboarding efficiency.

Examples:  Logitech, Zagg, Apple keyboard

GPS system*

A Global Positioning System (GPS) is a navigational system which uses satellite signals to determine the location of a ground receiver.  Mobile GPS devices are typically used to determine a person’s location, a desired location and real-time directions when traveling to a desired location.  A GPS device can be built-into a mainstream device or it can be a stand-alone device designed specifically for users with visual impairments and blindness.

Examples: BlindSquare app, Ariadne GPS app, Seeing Eye app, Trekker Breeze


Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is a technology to convert printed or written text into digitized text, which can then be read by screen readers.  Documents can be converted by scanning a document using a stand-alone scanner and translation software or by taking a photograph using a mobile device and using an OCR app.

Examples:  Kurzweil, ABBYY Finereader, KNFB Reader, Text Detective


Stand-alone Products

Electronic Video Magnifier/ Closed Circuit Television (CCTV)

A video magnification system uses a video camera that projects a magnified image onto a video monitor, television, computer monitor or tablet.   Video magnifiers often have options to invert colors, controls for contrast and brightness, and some have highlighting text options and/or built in screen readers.  These devices can be used for distance viewing or near viewing:  accessing a screen at the front of the classroom or enlarging reading material that is placed directly underneath the camera.  Devices come in a range of sizes from portable handheld devices to devices attached to large freestanding desktop version with a xy table.  

Note: Eye fatigue and other physical problems can result if the user does not have sufficient vision to read for a significant period of time without tiring.

A tablet or computer can also be used as a video magnifier when using a screen-sharing app.  A smart phone can be used to quickly view a distant or near object.  Example: To view a food menu (listed on a distant board or a printed menu), simply take a picture and use pinch-to-zoom.

Examples: Acrobat, Merlin, Clarity

Braille Notetaker

This device is a mobile information management system with either a Braille or QWERTY keyboard for input and refreshable braille and/or voice for output.  A Braille notetaker can be connected to other storage media such as a USB memory stick or a SD card to expand onboard memory storage capacity.  Braille notetakers are stand-alone units that functional like a minicomputer or PDA; they do not require being paired with a computer, tablet or phone. Many braille notetakers can also be paired with a tablet and used as a refreshable braille display.  

Differences between a Braille notetaker and Refreshable Braille Display:

Braille notetaker:

Refreshable Braille Display:

Examples: BrailleNote, Braille Sense, Braille Plus 18

Refreshable Braille Display

This device produces digital braille by electronically raising or lowering pins to display in braille a portion of what appears on the corresponding computer screen.  A refreshable braille display has a braille keyboard for input.  The braille display can be paired with a computer, tablet or phone and is used with screen reader software such as VoiceOver and JAWS.  The number of braille cells range from 18 – 80 cells.

Examples:  APH 18 Refreshabraille, Focus Blue, Brailliant


Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) is a digital talking book – with navigation capabilities.  DAISY books are free books available for people with visual impairments and other print disabilities.   DAISY books can be heard on stand-alone DAISY players, computers using DAISY playback software, tablets and phones with DAISY compatible reading apps and MP3 players.  DAISY books can be distributed on a CD/DVD, memory card or through the Internet.  

Examples: Daisy2Go player, Read2Go, Voice Dream Reader, Go Read


A switch is an assistive technology device that replaces the need to use a computer keyboard or mouse.  Switches are often beneficial for students with severe physical or cognitive impairments.  Switches come in all shapes and sizes; different actions can be used to activate them, such as sip-puff, pushing, pulling, pressing, blinking or squeezing.

Switches can be used with tablets; however, the app must be switch compatible.

Examples: Jellybean switch, Big Buddy Button

Braille Translation Software

Braille translation software is a software program that translates electronic documents into braille code files.  These files are then sent to a braille embosser, which produces the paper braille copy.

Note: Refreshable braille displays, which are used with a screen reader, automatically translate text to braille and braille to text – additional software is not needed.

Examples: Duxbury, MathType

Braille Embossers

Braille embossers produce paper braille.  In order to produce braille, you must have braille translation software to convert an electronic document into braille files before the document can be embossed.  Some braille embossers can produce tactile graphics.

Examples:  Romeo, Tiger, Braillo

*Can be a built-in accessibility feature or a stand-alone product.

By Diane Brauner

Graphic: How I read research sources with assistive technology.

How I read research sources with assistive technology

Hand holding a pencil while writing.

Reading handwriting with assistive technology

Computer displaying a certificate and graduation cap.

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