Factsheets

AbilityNet’s Factsheets are free to download and provide advice and information about how computers and other digital technologies can help people with a range of conditions and impairments.

Written by our specialist team of assessors and accessibility consultants they give detailed information on a wide range of assistive technology, services and related organisations. Many give a step by step guide to help you set up your computer and software (assistive technology) to meet your individual requirements.

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  • Did you know that for every 10 disabled users encountering barriers online, on average only one will complain about issues they encounter, and the other nine will give up or take their business elsewhere? (Click Away Pound research).

    Last updated: November 2019
  • The NHS defines Multiple Sclerosis (MS) as a condition that can affect the brain and spinal cord, causing a wide range of potential symptoms, including problems with vision, arm of leg movement, sensation or balance. There are three main types of MS; “Relapsing remitting MS”, “Primary progressive MS” and “Secondary progressive MS”. This factsheet offers a summary of the difficulties people with MS may experience using their computers, along with information about adjustments that can make their devices easier to use.
    Last updated: August 2019
  • Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis, affecting an estimated 9 million people in the UK. Osteoarthritis was previously dubbed “wear and tear” arthritis because it was thought that the joints gradually wore out over time and was an inevitable part of ageing. However, it’s now known that osteoarthritis is more complicated than this, and that while the risk of osteoarthritis does increase as we grow older it’s by no means inevitable. Although osteoarthritis is distinct from rheumatoid arthritis which is an auto-immune disease the two forms have similarities in the way in which they can impact quality of life, but also in the ways in which technology can support people, enabling them to maintain independence. Given that many people with osteoarthritis can experience reduced dexterity and can find it painful to use standard keyboards and mice, AbilityNet has produced this factsheet to cover some of the options that can help make computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones easier to use.
    Last updated: August 2019
  • Although using and interacting with information technology (IT) is becoming increasingly intuitive, it is not a natural process and therefore, some level of training will be needed for anyone. Training is also the most efficient way to improve confidence and encourage further independent learning. AbilityNet provides free IT support to help older people and disabled people to use technology to achieve their goals. We have a network of friendly volunteers who can help with most major computer systems, laptops, tablet devices and smartphones. We are often asked about teaching and training on computer skills, this factsheet provides the details of the companies, charities, and government initiatives that can provide this.
    Last updated: July 2019
  • This factsheet provides an overview of the main ways in which computers can be adapted to help anyone with a visual impairment. Some of these accessibility features are built into standard computers. Advances in assistive technology are opening up a world of productive possibilities for blind and partially sighted people in work and education, and at home. Finding the right technological ‘solution’ for anyone with a visual impairment can enable them to carry out a wide range of computing tasks very effectively. Access to these technologies can have a profound impact on peoples’ lives, from enabling career advancement, to increasing peoples’ sense of independence and self-esteem, while also helping reduce social isolation. Employers have a duty of care to all their employees under the Equality Act 2010 and must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to prevent discrimination against disabled staff. This factsheet has been written to help visually impaired users begin to identify the particular configuration of hardware and software options that will best meet their individual needs.
    Last updated: June 2019
  • Ergonomics is the study people’s performance and wellbeing in relation to their and working environment. This document provides an introduction to many of the issues you need to consider when setting up a workstation. However, it is not an exhaustive guide and you may need to do some further research using the links provided. AbilityNet are specialists in using digital technology to help people with disabilities fulfil their potential at work, at home and in education. However, the issues raised here are relevant to any employee with a workstation, and not just disabled people. It is important that employers understand their legal responsibility to provide ‘reasonable adjustments’ to protect their staff from injury and prevent discrimination. This includes adjustments to the workstation.
    Last updated: June 2019
  • RA is an auto-immune disease and quite different from osteoarthritis, the ‘wear-and-tear’ form of arthritis which many people get to some degree, particularly as they get older. People with RA experience disabling pain, stiffness and reduced joint function as well as severe fatigue, which can have a huge impact on quality of life for them and their families. Given that many people with Rheumatoid Arthritis find it painful to use a standard keyboard and mouse, AbilityNet have produced this factsheet to cover some of the options that can help make computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones easier to use. This factsheet is part of AbilityNet’s free Advice and Information service. If you have any questions at all about anything in this factsheet, or any other aspect of assistive technology, please contact us. Free Helpline: 0800 269545 Email: enquiries@abilitynet.org.uk Web: www.abilitynet.org.uk/expert-resources
    Last updated: June 2019
  • This factsheet highlights some of the actions you can carry out quickly on your computer by using key combinations rather than using the mouse to navigate menus and options. These key combinations are referred to as shortcuts as they are often a much quicker way of carrying out tasks. They can also be particularly useful for repetitive actions.
    Last updated: May 2019
  • This factsheet provides an overview of how you can use voice recognition. It can be used to control smart homes, issue commands to phones and tablets, set reminders and interact hands free with personal technologies. The most significant use is for the entry of text without having to use an onscreen or physical keyboard. Communication technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace. Using voice recognition to input text, check how words are spelled and to dictate messages has become very easy. Most on screen keyboards have a microphone icon which allows users to switch from typing to voice recognition very easily. For some disabled people who might struggle, or find it impossible, to work with a mouse or keyboard, speech recognition enables a world of productive possibilities. It can free people from typing and keyboard use, helping those with physical impairments and reducing the risk of repetitive strain injury from excessive typing or mouse use. People with dyslexia can write more fluently, accurately and quickly using voice recognition and may find it less stressful than conventional handwriting or typing. For employers, enabling voice recognition in systems and encouraging its use in the workplace can be a ‘reasonable adjustment’: preventing discrimination against, and maximising the productivity of, disabled staff.
    Last updated: May 2019
  • Work and study pressures, together with the ‘always on’ culture, can be significant causes of stress. If not managed, stress can lead to long-term sickness, anxiety and depression. There are many ways you can use your computer, tablet and/or smartphone to become better organised, more productive – and hopefully therefore less stressed. Small changes to how your computer is set up, and to the software you use, can make significant differences.
    Last updated: May 2019
  • This factsheet gives information about how computers, tablets and smartphones can be used to enhance listening for people with some degree of hearing loss. It does not aim to be comprehensive but provides a useful introduction to some of the key assistive technology available. Some 11 million people in the UK have hearing loss – that’s around one-in-six of the whole population. Levels of hearing loss – mild, moderate, severe or profound – are defined according to the quietest sound that you can hear.  Generally, as hearing loss gets progressively worse, difficulties in communicating increase. People with milder hearing losses may struggle when there is some background noise and people with more severe hearing loss may not be able to manage even in very quiet environments. Assistive devices and support can help individuals manage their hearing loss and transcend potential barriers to full participation in education, work and leisure activities. However, each person and their requirements are unique, and anyone with hearing loss should always seek expert assessment and advice from an audiologist or a specialist charity. Similarly, businesses and service providers should also access expert advice on the adjustments, adaptations and support they can make to ensure that people with hearing loss can enjoy equal access to services and do not face barriers to employment or experience discrimination at work.
    Last updated: April 2019
  • Standard keyboards and mice are functional ways of interacting with your computer and increasingly other devices like tablets. However, these standard devices can pose difficulties for many people – especially users with physical, sensory, or cognitive challenges – and there are lots of other options available. This factsheet provides details of some of the alternative keyboard, mouse and other pointing devices available. It also gives information on adaptations you can make to standard keyboards and mice. There are so many choices and variations, we cannot cover every single piece of equipment in this factsheet. Please call our free helpline on 0800 269 545 or email us at enquiries@abilitynet.org.uk if you require more detailed information.
    Last updated: April 2019
  • This factsheet looks at repetitive strain injury (RSI) – the term most often used to describe the pain felt in muscles, nerves and tendons caused by repeated movement and overuse. It looks at the symptoms and causes of RSI (also known as Upper limb disorders (ULDs), cumulative trauma disorder or occupational overuse syndrome. Work Related Upper Limb Disorders) and the steps that individuals or employers can take to protect themselves and their staff. It is important that employers understand their legal responsibility to provide any ‘reasonable adjustments’ to protect their staff from injury and prevent discrimination. Computer use is one significant cause of RSI, and this factsheet includes practical information on both reducing the risk and responding effectively to any cases that may arise in an office environment.
    Last updated: April 2019
  • Some people can only use the keyboard with one hand. This factsheet gives you some advice on the most effective ways of doing this.
    Last updated: April 2019
  • A screen reader allows people who are blind or visually impaired to use their computer. This factsheet provides an overview of the main screen readers available for people to use with their computer or mobile devices. It has been written to help people determine which is the most appropriate for their needs and includes summary information about the screen readers built into the operating system alongside other free or commercial products. As with all assistive technologies, no one size fits all, and people may find it useful to try more than one before settling on their preferred tool. In the UK there are almost 2 million people living with sight loss. According to the RNIB only one in four people registered blind or partially sighted is in employment, and this number is falling. As such, the promotion of awareness about screen reader technology plays a vital part in the continued welfare, education, and employability of people with visual impairments.
    Last updated: February 2019
  • Parkinson's is a progressive neurological condition. This means that it causes problems in the brain and gets worse over time. Most people who develop Parkinson’s are over 50 but younger people can develop it too. Parkinson’s develops when cells in the brain stop working properly and are lost over time. There are three main symptoms - tremor (shaking), slowness of movement and rigidity (muscle stiffness) - but there are many other symptoms too. This factsheet offers a summary of the difficulties people with Parkinson’s may experience when using their computers, along with information about the adjustments that can make their devices easier to use. With thanks to our charity colleagues at Parkinson’s UK for reviewing our Parkinson’s and Technology factsheet prior to publication.
    Last updated: January 2019
  • Autism or ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) “…is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others.” (National Autistic Society, 2018). Autism is a spectrum condition and people with autism can often have accompanying learning disabilities, difficulties and needs. Despite the challenges experienced by people on the autism spectrum, it is increasingly being identified as a neurodiverse condition. Neurodiversity recognises that humans are not all the same and a neurological difference such as autism is a normal variation of the human experience with a number of positive and desirable character traits and a fundamental part of a person’s identity. It should be recognised that there is an ongoing debate regarding the language used to describe people on the autism spectrum as well as identity-first terms such as ‘autistic’ or ‘Aspergers’.
    Last updated: January 2019
  • Dyslexia is a condition that affects the learning processes involved with reading, spelling and/or writing. It is estimated that dyslexia affects approximately 1 in 10 people with 1 in 25 being classed as severely dyslexic. It is what we now recognise as a neurodiverse condition. Neurodiversity recognises that humans are not all the same and a neurological difference such as dyslexia is a normal variation of the human experience with a number of positive and desirable character traits and a fundamental part of a person’s identity. This factsheet gives an overview of some of the ways that technology can be used to assist people with dyslexia. Much of this help is built into devices or available for free.
    Last updated: January 2019
  • Communication problems affect an estimated 2.2 million people.  This includes people with aphasia, autism, cerebral palsy, dementia, head trauma, learning difficulties, motor neurone disease (MND), Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s and stroke. People with these conditions may have difficulty speaking or understanding what is being said. This barrier can affect every aspect of daily life. A large variety of communication aids are available to help people communicate more effectively. Useful aids include ‘no-tech’ E-Tran frames (a means of using eye-pointing as a way of communicating through pictures, symbols, letters, number and words), and computer-aided communication using dedicated input methods, and dedicated AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) tools.  This factsheet outlines your options when selecting an electronic aid to make it clearer and quicker to communicate. AAC (‘augmentative and alternative communication’) aids can be a purpose-built device or a standard computer, tablet or smartphone running specialist software or apps. Many people combine these high-tech aids with other forms of non-verbal communication, including gestures, facial expression, pictures and signing. Everyone’s communication support needs are different and selecting the right communication aids for an individual will depend on their particular needs, personal preferences and abilities. With so many aids to choose from, we emphasise the importance of seeking a comprehensive assessment by a speech and language therapist. This will ensure that all the important factors are considered – including the individual's motor, visual, cognitive, language and communication strengths and weaknesses. The therapist can also make a referral to a specialist communication aid centre if necessary. Communication is a two-way process and it is very helpful to include family members and carers in an assessment. Ongoing training and support can also help to ensure the success of the selected aid(s). Additionally, with the cost involved, it makes great sense to have a free trial before committing to the purchase of any expensive communication aid. 
    Last updated: June 2018
  • There are 850,000 people with dementia in the UK, and their numbers are set to rise to over 1 million by 2025. It is not a specific disease but an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive conditions affecting the brain. Dementia cannot be cured and anyone diagnosed with dementia will require increasing care and support as their condition worsens. Some people may suffer from different types of dementia – such as Alzheimer’s Disease and vascular dementia – but each person’s experience will be unique to them. In addition to memory loss, dementia symptoms include difficulties with language, thinking, and concentration, as well as periods of mental confusion, and changes in personality and mood. Some dementia sufferers can also become withdrawn from social interaction and suffer from depression. However, during the early stages of dementia, much can be done to help the person to maintain as much of their independence and autonomy as possible. Computer technology can help to make life easier for people with dementia and their carers. This factsheet summarises some of the key ways it can help support people with dementia to achieve greater independence and autonomy, including by:
    • assisting with everyday living
    • reducing risk and increasing safety
    • helping with memory and recall
    • maintaining social contact.
    These benefits can all help to improve confidence and the quality of life for someone with dementia while also providing important support and reassurance to carers. With the involvement of family members and carers, computer activities for people with dementia can also help to strengthen relationships, inter-generational interactions and social connections.
    Last updated: April 2018
  • Each year in the UK, around 150,000 people have a stroke. Most of these strokes are caused by a blockage cutting off the blood supply to part of the brain, but they can also be caused by bleeding in or around the brain. Without blood, brain cells become damaged or die. Depending on where it happens, this damage can have different effects. A stroke can affect how your body works, and also how you think, feel and communicate.  All strokes are different. For some people, the effects may be relatively minor and/or short-lived; for others, the problems may be more serious and/or longer-term. Whatever the effects, there are many ways that assistive technology can help to improve confidence and the quality of life for people affected by stroke, including by:
    • making computers and tablets easier to use
    • supporting physical therapy
    • helping with cognitive difficulties
    • making communication more effective.
    Last updated: April 2018
  • Despite falling prices, the cost of a suitable computer system is still beyond the means of many disabled people, especially those on a low income. This factsheet provides information and advice on how disabled people may obtain alternative funding for assistive technology that could make a significant difference to their quality of life. In addition to potential government support – for students and disabled people in employment or seeking work – a large number of charities are willing to help fund the cost of specialist computer systems and communication aids. Generally, such grants are only made in situations where no statutory support is available, and where the required items cannot be funded by any other means. Many charities only make awards to people in receipt of state benefits and will want to be satisfied that applicants are receiving their full entitlement. Also, a single charity may not cover the entire cost, and will therefore expect applicants to demonstrate how they propose to make up any potential shortfall.
    Last updated: February 2018
  • Nearly one-in-five of people living in the UK have a disability of which a growing proportion are aged 65 or over. Many of these people struggle to use a standard telephone or mobile phone, and would benefit from a suitable alternative. This factsheet provides an introduction to the various types of telephone and mobile phone that are available to make communication easier for someone with an impairment. Manufacturers of more accessible telephones and mobile phones include Amplicomms, Doro and Geemarc, and many of the models they produce are readily available form major retail outlets. However, please note that this factsheet is not intended to be exhaustive. Anyone who might benefit from a different kind of phone that would be easier for them to use is strongly advised to seek specialist advice.
    Last updated: November 2017
  • Computer technology can help improve the quality of life for people with a broad range of learning difficulties. This factsheet outlines some of the ways that assistive technology addresses the varied needs of people with such problems. It includes summary details of adaptations to computer hardware, as well as introducing the growing range of specialist software now available to help people with learning difficulties to learn, communicate and participate more successfully.
    Last updated: November 2017
  • Nearly one-in-five of people living in the UK have a disability, including over eight million people of working age. This factsheet summarises the steps employers can take to recruit and support people with an impairment or long-term health condition in work. It also highlights the range of high quality paid for and free services that AbilityNet provides to help disabled people succeed at work. Employing disabled people is good for business. It can help you to:
    • draw on a much broader talent pool
    • employ and retain high quality staff who are skilled, loyal and hard working
    • improve employee morale and reduce absence through sickness
    • create a diverse workforce that more closely reflects your range of customers and the community where you operate.
    Under the law, there can also be serious penalties for treating someone less favourably because of a personal characteristic, such as being disabled.
    Last updated: November 2017
  • Writing with accessibility in mind means that you are trying to ensure that your content can be read and understood by as wide an audience as possible. This factsheet presents some helpful tips on improving the accessibility of your publications, for both print and reading online. It focuses primarily on producing accessible material using Microsoft Word – but the principles involved are universal and may easily be applied using other software.
    Last updated: October 2017