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9 accessibility apps that make screen use easier for everyone

Life is hard right now.

In 2021, our stress levels are off the charts; we are exhausted living with unknown unknowns, high levels of anxiety, mistrust, and uncertainty in many areas.

We strongly believe that if there is an app that can help alleviate stress, we should use it.

Stress causes illness (here’s a handy list of just a few of them), and it lowers the immune system. So, making life less stressful and more manageable is something we believe we should all be embracing.

As such, we’ve put together a list of 9 accessibility apps that we know can make life easier and less stressful for all of us.



Not everyone has a disability, and not everyone wants to admit or disclose having a disability, so why would an accessibility app help if you don’t ‘need’ one?

Because our lives are lived through our screens, and to make them more accessible makes them more inclusive. Yet, just because we are online 24/7, it doesn’t mean the interface to that life is harmless.

It isn’t.

We are all aware that post lockdowns screen fatigue and zoom fatigue are endemic.

Plus, those with pre-existing visual impairments, dyslexia and diagnosed as neurodiverse are at a ‘4’ to ‘7’ fold increased risk of induced visual repetitive stress injuries, namely myopia (short-sightedness) and asthenopia (eye strain) that are exacerbated by prolonged periods on-screen.

The longer we spend on screen, the worse the repetitive visual stress injuries, the longer the recovery time, the worse the eyesight, that’s worsened by being on-screen all the time.

And around we go.

We also need to nod to the fact that accessibility is a regulatory requirement, though sadly not well adhered to or enforced.

Below is a list of current UK regulations regarding digital display screens, and we do often wonder how many HR departments are aware of them and implement them?

ISO 45001 ‘Work Exposure Limits’ regardless of not having a “Right to Disconnect.”

ISO 45003 Employee Wellbeing, Psychosocial Hazards and Risks to Mental Health

WCAG 2.1 Colour Contrast Validation for websites and e-learning (inc Education)

ISO 300171 DSE Colour Contrast Calibration Mitigating Vision Stress (Digital Literacy)

ISO 30415 Diversity and Inclusion Standard (Accessibility and Inclusion)



But enough of the problems and regulations, to the apps for the solutions!

(And a massive shout out to the folk that created them).



1) Screen readers.

Screen readers convert what’s on the screen to sound or braille, be those images, text, buttons, and so on and are most often used by vision-impaired people.

What many don’t realise is that screen readers can read faster than most humans.

According to Axess Lab, a Finish developer called Tuukka Ojala
set his reading speed to 450 words per minute. The average person reads at a rate of around 150 words per minute.

That’s quite the speed!

You’ve probably already noticed that you can speed up some podcasts and YouTube videos; well, now you can speed up reading your screen.

Why would you use one if you are not vision impaired?

If you want to read articles and don’t have the time, then a screen reader can increase the speed of ‘reading’ by reading it aloud to you at say twice the average rate – you get the information and you save time, and you could be doing other things simultaneously.

Axess Lab has created a fantastic resource explaining what a screen reader is, and they have a video showing one in action.

If you are considering a screen reader – this is the most recent review that we’ve found. From 2019, it compares 5 of the top screen readers.



2) Google Translate

You might consider this a bit of an odd one, as google translate is for languages other than our own, but is it?

On the app is an icon for sound. So, if you are unsure of how to pronounce a word, simply type it into google translate, press the sound icon, and the app will ‘speak’ the word correctly pronounced.

Why do we need to hear how a word is pronounced? Because we learn language through vision and sound.

Here’s an example.

A friend’s daughter can pronounce the name of THAT village in Wales.
How? Because she heard it repeated over and over again.

https://youtu.be/_3b2F-bkAdM ( and I bet you didn’t know the entire name was made up to be a tourist attraction?)

However – put medical terminology in front of the same girl and ask her to say it out loud? Not so easy!

According to an article in Scientific American, “we hear written words in our head.
Sound may have been the original vehicle for language, but writing allows us to create and understand words without it. Yet new research shows that sound remains a critical element of reading”.

Give it a try the next time you’re unsure of how a word is pronounced.



3) Dictation apps – voice to text

Dictation apps mean you speak while the computer/phone does the typing.
Using ASR – advanced speech recognition, they can be faster, easier, no clumsy fingers, no one finger typing, and you can concentrate on what you are trying to say, rather than figuring out where the letters are on the keyboard.

Great for people with dyslexia, reading and learning difficulties.
Great for replying to messages and emails when you are washing up – yes, looking at you, J!

Also great for people who wish they had a typist who could do it all for them.

These apps are also invaluable for people with RSI, arthritis, and physical disabilities, where typing can be uncomfortable or challenging.

Softwaretestinghelp.com have put together a comprehensive guide to the best dictation software out there, entirely up to date as of the 18th of October 2021. And yes, both Google docs and Apple have free software for this (in the top 3 according to the review).



4) Windows 11 accessibility

Windows 11 is gradually being rolled out, and according to their blog, it “is the most inclusively designed version of Windows.”
What will remain from Windows 10 are: Narrator, Magnifier, Closed Captions and Windows Speech Recognition.
What’s new? Microsoft boasts new sound schemes, including different sounds for Light and Dark Themes, combining vision and sound.
They’ve upgraded their colour contrast settings, so those with light sensitivity and people working for extended periods can enjoy different colour themes, including new Dark themes and what they call reimagined High Contrast Themes.
Closed Captions have been re-designed and are now easier to read and customise. In addition, windows Voice Typing uses state-of-the-art artificial intelligence to recognise speech, transcribe, and automatically punctuate the text.
As Windows 11 rollout is ongoing – we will await feedback from users, but what is fantastic is that accessibility is improving.



5) Display Screen Optimiser (DSO).

Compatible with Windows 10 and using innovations and discoveries from the world of dyslexia – the Display Screen Optimiser is there to help prevent screen fatigue (also known as computer eye strain or computer vision syndrome).

Spending hours online causes the following symptoms: Tired, dry eyes: double vision, headaches, blurred vision, and poor focus.

But you can mitigate these symptoms and the long-term harm they cause by changing the background colour of your screen.

What’s unique about the DSO is that it doesn’t rely upon you to choose a colour; instead, you need to take a 15 minute – admittedly challenging – reading test, and it finds the best-coloured background for you.

A few people have been surprised at the colour they needed – (deep purple or bright orange, anyone?) But they’ve also been pleasantly surprised at how less stressed they felt once they started using it.
See Jason’s testimony as a case in point. He spends hours staring at Excel spreadsheets every day, and the DSO has undoubtedly improved his energy and concentration.

This page talks you through the entire reading challenge and how to download the colour theme.



6) Enable Captions

There are two types of captions – closed captions and subtitles.

Closed captions were created to allow deaf and hard-of-hearing people to experience the video/movie/TV show, including background sounds and speaker changes.

Subtitles assume the viewer hears the audio and, as a result, do not highlight background sounds or speaker changes.

Most of us will see subtitles as we scroll through our various streaming subscriptions and on some social media, as it’s a clever way to see a snippet of the video without having to have the sound on. They’re also great to use if the person speaking has a voice that grates on your nerves!

Are they easy to enable??
Social media or streaming services have a settings option; usually a simple enable captions on/off button.

But what if you want to add captions to your videos?
Many find it challenging and tiring, and thankfully the days of having to write out that transcript in full have gone, as there are apps everywhere for this, from free to paid, and we’ve added a link to a top 5 review below.

Having captions enabled is a game-changer if you are hard of hearing or if there’s background noise, if the language spoken is not your first language, if you are in a noisy place, or perhaps you are somewhere where you need to be silent?

And putting them on your videos means your videos are more accessible for everyone, which means the reach will probably be further.

Here’s the review of 5 Best Android Apps, because yes – you can even do this now on your phone!



7) Keyboard and mouse.

These should probably come under the assistive technology label, but we have included them to help accessibility.

There are a plethora of keyboards available, and some of the ergonomic ones are intriguing.

Designed so there is barely any wrist movement, almost eliminating the risks of RSI. The linked post is a resource to show if a different type of keyboard would benefit you, even if just as a preventative measure.

Some keyboards are designed for vision issues, so the keys/letters are easier to see.

Then for the mouse, these too have had a radical re-design. Some look like the control of an RAF stealth bomber, designed to fit in with the human body and natural movements.

Unfortunately, the uber-cool and sleek mouse designs that come as standard can be devastating to the body if used long term.
Some more advanced pc users use their PCs with keystroke operations to limit mouse use, and some even write their own code for it!



8) Apple short cuts app: iPhone and iPad.

Creating shortcuts can be worth the time – if, on balance, they save you time, make your phone or iPad easier to use and result in personalisation for your specific needs.

In this video: https://youtu.be/U5MtSH60uEI Mathew Cassinelli walks you through shortcuts he’s made to his iPad, explaining some of the features available, e.g., brightness, white point, dark mode, text size, reducing motion, transparency and contrasts, and more.
There are so many features that can help with our day-to-day life; it’s just that many of us don’t know about them.



9) Apple Watch

Probably not the first accessibility tool to think about, as the screens are small, and one might think not easy to navigate or use, yet Apple watches come with accessibility built-in – here’s a quick rundown of how they can assist you.

• VoiceOver
• Zoom
• Grayscale
• On/Off Labels
• The X-Large watch face
• Text size
• Reduce motion
• Mono audio
• Taptic Engine provides a gentle tap on your wrist every time a notification comes in.

So, nine apps that barely scratch the surface of what’s out there to improve our lives but they are certainly a start.

All it takes is a little investigating, learning how to use them, and then the stress levels should start to fall as your life becomes just that little bit easier.

Twitter – helping or harming your eyesight?

Twitter is like marmite – you either love it or hate it. But no matter where your personal opinions are,  Twitter has over 300 million active users a month, and last year (2020), it generated over $3.7 billion in revenue.

That’s a lot of eyeballs generating a lot of money.

So let’s look at the eyeballs and how twitter’s accessibility policy made the headlines during the summer.

In August 2021, and with much fanfare, Twitter announced accessibility changes to their platform with the idea that it would make Twitter more accessible.

Accessibility is the capacity for everybody to have access to something, regardless of any conditions they might have.”

They created their own font – cheesily called Chirp.

They also created higher contrast between text and background colours and reduced visual clutter.

These don’t sound much; they were welcomed by many and have provided a cleaner reading experience for some.

But if you have visual issues, these new changes prove challenging and highlight that websites can cause physical harm.

As Sheri Byrne-Haber wrote in her article for UXDesign.

  1. Animation and multimedia flashing can trigger epileptic seizures. Pseudoflashing (black and white optical illusions) that don’t actually move but appear to be moving can do the same. Someone who seizes might fall, which can cause a skull fracture. This is literally the only WCAG guideline where failing to follow it can result in someone’s death.
  2. Font changes and certain contrast can trigger eyestrain and headaches.
  3. Certain types of motion, such as parallax and optical illusions, can make some people motion sick. 

So what are the problems?

Twitter’s new font is said by many to be squished up, making it harder to read.

The stark contrast of black against white, instead of blue against white, is causing migraines in some users, and too much white space can be jarring on the eyes, again triggering pain.

Interestingly, this is not the first time Twitter has made attempts at accessibility.

In 2019, Twitter installed a new colour contrast button for high contrast – so only suitable for those with low and poor vision.

You can find it in settings.

Twitter colour contrast control

And it’s the colour contrast issues that we are concerned with and are highlighting because the colour contrast on Twitter has been changed for you – with no option to reduce it.

As the Verge stated: Accessibility isn’t one size fits all.

We describe in one of our blogs how colour contrast refers to the “tone, brightness and amount of text, images and background on a web page or website. So essentially, it’s looking at how easy is it to read regarding the colours, the fonts, and the background colours and images.

It’s important because:

“Colour contrast can help reduce the distortions of the printed word and can increase reading ease and speed.”

But as we know all too well here at ScreenRisk, colour contrast is very personal. What works well for one person will have others running out the door – as Twitter found out.

Looking through the media regarding the Twitter story, Verywell health online website wrote the following:

“While having high contrast between font and text can make it easier for people with low vision to read, some users with photosensitivity (including those who get migraines or tension headaches) have said that Twitter has made the contrast on the site so high that it’s triggering their symptoms.”

“They’ve effectively just transferred the issues with colour contrast to a new group of users, rather than resolving them,” Jessica James, an accessibility consultant at Erudite Agency, tells Verywell.

With revenue in the billions and over 300 million users a month,

Twitter has grown from a relatively small platform in 2010 with around 50 million users a month to where it is now. Their users will be diverse in many ways, which begs the question,  how did they get it so wrong? 

There are a couple of possibilities.

1) They are unaware of the level of users that have visual stress and disabilities.

In 2020, approximately 2.28 million individuals in the United Kingdom were classified as having moderate-severe vision loss, with around 171 thousand Brits registered blind.

6.3 million people in the UK have Dyslexia, and those stats are from 2017. Research shows that dyslexic people tend to read faster when presented with lower-contrast text.

8.5 million people in the UK have visions issues.

How many are using Twitter? Do Twitter even know?

2) They didn’t engage with or listen to the people that it would affect.

In  June 2020, journalist Devin Coldway wrote an article highlighting that Twitter didn’t have a dedicated disability/accessibility team.

In it, he quoted a team member that said, “volunteers behind accessibility at Twitter” were “frustrated and disappointed” at the lack of consideration for people with disabilities, prompting astonishment that there is no dedicated team. He clarified that they are paid employees (not outright volunteers) but that “the work we do is notionally on top of our regular roles.” So the work he and everyone else has done has essentially been in their spare time.”

This article may have shamed the company into doing something because, in September of 2020, Twitter shared a blog post titled  Making Twitter more Accessible. They announced the creation of two new teams and highlighted their accessibility account @TwitterA11y.

 Twitter is not all bad.

According to one website – “Twitter far exceeds the minimum contrast standards set by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which provides recommendations for making websites accessible to disabled people”.

And they are making changes to the latest tweaking of colour contrast after customer feedback was so vocal.

Twitter image
Twitter reply to users

WCAG or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are a set of guidelines seen as the benchmark for website accessibility. They look at improving access to websites for those with visual issues, who are deaf or hard of hearing and those with learning disabilities.

WCAG 2.1 regulations were designed to look at contrast ratio, especially the luminance or brightness between colours, and help those suffering from visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning, and neurological disabilities access web content more readily.

(We have an entire page dedicated to digital accessibility where we explain the guidelines and  regulations) 

 To those campaigning for website accessibility, WCAG covers the basics, and they are merely guidelines.

The only companies that must follow them are governments and healthcare agencies,

However, for a virtual, private, or high street business, being WCAG compliant is not a necessity.

 Twitter doesn’t have to follow any of them, that they do is testimony to them.

But what this entire situation has highlighted is that accessibility is not one size fits all, that we are all diverse, unique and have our own struggles, and one of the tech giants could, if they so choose, make huge strides with accessibility on their platform.

The question is – will they?

Digital Accessibility

Hooray – the time has come the Walrus said for many things and eye-strain (Asthenopia) Computer Vision Syndrome or Screen Fatigue as a disability which has, for far to long, been dismissed as temporary yet, as an everyday uncomfortable even painful impairment to performance and productivity in the majority of DSE workers contributes 20% or 30 days to the total 57.2 days lost productivity in the UK. Maybe now, whilst recognised as a Global Pandemic elsewhere we can do something to raise awareness in the UK by revisiting the 2007 HSE Better Display Screen RR561 that subjectively reported 58% of user operators experienced symptoms