What are assistive technologies?

Understand what assistive technologies are and how they help disabled people access and use web content.

Assistive technologies (AT) are hardware and software that give people greater flexibility and control to do things in potentially disabling environments.

Assistive technologies are designed for people who may have difficulty:

Different disabilities require different AT. Some people have multiple disabilities that require a custom set of AT.

Using AT, disabled people can perform a wide range of tasks that help them live fuller, more independent lives.

Everyday assistive technologies

Assistive technologies are tools that support people to do things that might otherwise be difficult or impossible. Examples of AT that are used by people with mobility and sensory impairments in the physical environment are:

Assistive technologies for the web

In a web context, AT are products or systems that disabled people use to access, navigate, interact with and understand web content on computers and mobile devices.

Examples of AT
  • adaptive keyboards
  • screen magnifiers
  • screen readers
  • speech recognition software
  • switches
  • word prediction and spell checkers

For an introduction to some of ways that disabled people interact with web content, see Tools and Techniques — Web Accessibility Initiative — W3C.

Assistive technologies as user agents

In the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a user agent is any software that retrieves and presents web content to a user. Examples include:

Assistive technologies are user agents that are designed specifically for disabled people — they process and deliver web content to the user, and often work together with other user agents at the same time.

For instance, speech recognition, screen magnification and screen reader software is AT that works together with a browser — another user agent — to present web content to the user.

Built-in accessibility features

Operating systems (OS) come bundled with different AT. For example, Windows and macOS both come with speech recognition, screen magnification and screen reader software.

In addition to AT, operating systems and browsers have built-in features that are not considered separate AT, as they are part of the OS or browser itself. These built-in features are not designed specifically for  disabled people — but they are still important for enabling users to customise their experience with content, for example by:

To ensure that these additional accessibility features in operating systems and browsers work for users, it’s important to design, develop and test web content with them in mind.

Operating system accessibility features

Browser-based accessibility features