“Technology accommodations aren't necessary because people have disabilities. They're necessary because computers are really, really, really badly designed.
– Jane Vincent
Assistive technology evaluations are an opportunity for members of the University of Michigan community to explore high-tech accommodation options for a temporary or permanent disability. Center staff members have extensive experience recommending accessibility solutions for people with all types or combinations of disabilities. There is no charge. To make an appointment, please contact Knox Center staff at Sites.Knox@umich.edu.
Supported software will be updated periodically, and is available on all public Sites machines throughout campus.
Provided software is available as described.
Note: Users will need to bring their own headphones when using screen reader software.
- JAWS (Job Access with Speech) allows blind users to access Windows computers using audio output and keyboard commands.
- NVDA, an open source Windows screen reader that provides speech output and keyboard navigation for blind users, is now available on all public Sites computers running the Windows operating system. NVDA uses a keyboard command set very similar to JAWS and has been shown to work with the currently installed versions of Firefox and Office. Users may also download NVDA to their personal computers at no charge.
- VoiceOver is a screen reader built into Macintosh operating systems.
- ZoomText provides options that make text and cursors easier to see for Windows users.
- Balabolka is an open source Windows program that we have found to be more useful than Read & Write for converting text files into MP3s. It is now available on all public Sites computers running the Windows operating system.
- Open Balabolka from the AppsAnywhere page.
- Cut and paste text into the Balabolka window
- Choose a voice you like from the pull-down list:
- Choose File menu >Save Audio File... or press Ctrl+W.
Balabolka works well with the NVDA screen reader, with the following guidance:
- Use the tab key from the main document area to access the speech synthesizer, voice, rate, pitch, and volume.
- Sliders are not labeled, but their values are spoken when focus lands on them and when they are being adjusted.
- One easy way to determine which slider you are adjusting is to move one, press the F5 key, and listen for a change in the voice.
- You can also change these characteristics through the Voice Menu which is accessible via the keyboard shortcut Alt + v. Sliders are properly labeled if this method is used.
Users may also download Balabolka to their personal computers at no charge. It is confirmed to work well with screen readers. We are continuing to look for an equivalent Macintosh program.
Read & Write Gold for Windows and Read & Write Gold for Mac interface directly with word processors and browsers, which can provide more flexibility than stand-alone programs like Kurzweil 3000. It also includes Screenshot Reader, which allows audio reading of text formats that are otherwise not accessible. This software is now available on all Sites-maintained Windows and Mac computers throughout the campus. Read & Write Gold for iPad, which has a limited feature set, is also part of our U-M license.
Read & Write Gold is also available for personal use to any current U-M student, faculty, or staff member.
- The Windows version can be downloaded from Compute at the U.
- Students registered with SSD may request the Mac version at no charge by emailing Sites.Knox@umich.edu. All other current community members may bring or purchase a 8GB or better thumb drive at the Computer Showcase on the first floor of the Undergraduate Library, and request that Read & Write be copied onto it at no additional charge.
- To use the iPad version, download it from iTunes. Then contact Jane Vincent at email@example.com to make an appointment to authorize the app for ongoing use.
- Kurzweil 3000 has functionality similar to Read & Write Gold, but uses a proprietary interface instead of working directly with applications. Kurzweil version 11 will continue to be available on all Windows Sites computers until it is no longer compatible with the operating system that Sites is using.
- Inspiration is software that helps with brainstorming. Users can enter ideas in any order and then link them, or use templates designed for specific educational tasks such as writing essays or lab reports. This software is only available on computer ATCS5 in room 2064A of the Knox Center.
- Dragon NaturallySpeaking for Windows allows users to dictate text, as well as perform mouse functions via spoken commands. Users will need to bring their own USB microphone headsets when using NaturallySpeaking; the Logitech ClearChat works well, is inexpensive, and is available from Amazon.com and most office supply stores. NaturallySpeaking is available on the Windows computer ATCS5 (in the leftmost workstation) in room 2064A at the Knox Center.
- Dragon for Mac is a version of NaturallySpeaking for Macintosh computers. We have found that it works best with the build-in Mac microphone, so no external microphone is necessary. It is only available on the ATCS4 Mac in room 2064A at the Knox Center.
- Sonocent is software that records audio and breaks it into visible chunks that can be color-coded, deleted, etc. Additional features include the ability to import PowerPoint slides, pictures, or notes. A demo version is available on the Windows computer ATCS5 in room 2064A at the Knox Center.
Both Windows and Macintosh operating systems have utilities that make keyboard, mouse, and monitor use easier.
- In Windows 10, go to Start Menu > Control Panel > Ease of Access
(For more information, see Accessibility in Windows 10)
- In Mac OS X, go to Apple Menu > System Preferences > Universal Access
(For more information, see Mac Accessibility)
Smartpens can be a useful notetaking tool. They look and write like a standard pen, but have additional useful capabilities. Knox Center staff can provide a demo of the two smartpens listed below; please contact us at Sites.Knox@umich.edu.
- The Echo smartpen has a built-in audio recorder. When notes are written in a compatible notebook, the user can later perform a review by tapping the pen on any section of the note and having the associated audio play back. The text and audio can then be archived and even converted to editable text.
With the smartpen notebooks, it is very important that you archive a notebook that you have completed. There are only four models of notebooks provided by SSD, numbered 1 (blue), 2 (red), 3 (black), and 4 (orange). If you have previously used, say, a #3 notebook, finish it, and then want to use a new #3, you will first need to archive the old one to your computer. Otherwise, when you write in the new book it may play the audio from the old one. Full instructions on archiving a notebook are available from the Livescribe website.
When you start a new notebook, you should also be sure to tap on the seal with your pen before breaking the seal. This identifies the new book to the system.
The Echo 3-D headset can help improve audio recording quality. This is the only headset that will work with the pen.
The Echo is available for purchase at the Computer Showcase.
- The IRIS smartpen can convert writing to text files (it does not have an audio component). Unlike the Echo, it works with standard paper.
All tables and chairs at the Knox Center are adjustable. Room 2064A has one chair that permits computer use from a reclining position, available on a first-come-first-served basis.
Several adjustable tables are also available in multiple Sites labs throughout campus. The locations of these tables are indicated on the Computing Sites Locations and Resources page.
Also known as "video magnifiers," CCTVs enlarge text, handwork or anything placed under their cameras. Although they often use computer monitors to display the enlarged image, they do not transfer this image to the computer. Users can adjust contrast, brightness, magnification level and focus. The Knox Center has one CCTV in the back left corner of Room 2064.
Abledata is an excellent resource for learning about assistive technology products that the Knox Center does not provide. Knox Center staff are familiar with many of these products and will be happy to discuss them.
Current and prospective students are eligible to receive unlimited consultation from the Knox Center. Proof of disability (such as registration with the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities) is not required to make an evaluation appointment. Appointments are usually scheduled between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays; exceptions may be made in unusual situations.
Faculty and Staff: Please change to: Current faculty/staff members who need assistive technology evaluations should contact Cindy Zielinski at MHealthy (734-763-0852; firstname.lastname@example.org).
Faculty & Staff
Current faculty/staff members who need assistive technology evaluations should contact Suzanne Bade at MHealthy (734-763-0852; email@example.com).
Knox Center staff is able to provide limited support to alumni, retirees, and emeriti, either in-person, via phone, or via email.
Others at U-M
Other members of the U-M community, including students, alumni, retirees, and emeriti, are welcome to make an evaluation appointment at the Knox Center. Center staff members have extensive experience recommending accessibility solutions for people with all types or combinations of disabilities.
Proof of disability (such as registration with the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities) is not required to make an evaluation appointment. Appointments are usually scheduled between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays; exceptions may be made in unusual situations.
Appointments are usually conducted at the Knox Center, 2064 Shapiro Library. Most appointments can be held in a private room within the Center.
To make an appointment, please contact Knox Center staff at Sites.Knox@umich.edu
Please Bring to Your Appointment...
To get the most from your appointment, we suggest you bring the following:
Your glasses, wrist braces or any other devices you commonly use when computing.
Your personal portable device (laptop, tablet, etc.) if you have accessibility questions about its use.
If you have questions about your personal desktop computer, it is often helpful if you could bring some technical information—usually, its current amount of RAM, hard disk capacity, processor speed and monitor size. Please ask if you need assistance determining this information.
Examples of any course-related materials that you are having difficulty using.
Members of the Public
The downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library (AADL) offers one-on-one basic assistance with assistive technology devices and applications, by appointment. For more information, or to set up an appointment, call (734) 327-4224, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.