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The accessibility of multifunction printers: an updated usability study of accessible multifunction printers and a survey of multifunction printer users with vision loss.

Among the most widely used pieces of office equipment, multifunction printers assist workers in common everyday tasks that include copying, faxing, scanning, and printing. The ability to use a multifunction printer is essential for most office jobs today, as well as for personal productivity in a variety of fields. Before the advent of multifunction printers, basic copiers and printers were used, many of which had simpler tactile interfaces that allowed easier use by those with vision loss. Most multifunction printers now have embedded touch-screen visual displays, making their use much more difficult for people who are blind or visually impaired.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 requires that the U.S. government purchase only electronic and information technology that is accessible to people who have disabilities; this requirement includes office equipment products. Further, the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) has expanded these requirements to include access to advanced communications services and equipment, including those devices involved with e-mail communications, a feature included in many multifunction printers. In addition to these federal requirements, many state governments also require their electronic and information technology to be accessible to people with disabilities. As a result, multifunction printers need to be accessible in order to be marketable to federal and state government offices and workers.

The use of accessible technology has been shown to improve the lives of people with visual impairments (that is, those who are blind or have low vision) by increasing employment opportunities and advancement (Kelly, 2011; Kelly & Wolffe, 2012; McDonnall & Crudden, 2009), improving academic skills (Cooper & Nichols, 2007; Zhou et al., 2012), and leading to better psychosocial outcomes (DuBosque, 2014; Emerson & Bishop, 2012; Smedema & McKenzie, 2010).

According to the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (American Foundation for the Blind, 2014), there are 20.6 million adults with vision loss in the U.S. Data from the 2012 American Community Survey (ACS) show that 38% of working-age individuals with visual disabilities are employed, compared to 72% of the general population, and only 25% work full-time compared to 53% (Cornell University, 2014). Employment for many people with vision loss depends on the ability to use common office equipment, and the inaccessibility of these devices may contribute to the high rate of unemployment. Thus, it is essential that multifunction printers and other common office equipment be accessible.

Burton and Huffman (2006a) surveyed business leaders about the importance of employees being able to use 10 types of office equipment. Large furniture-sized multipurpose copy machines received the highest rating in importance, followed by desktop printers, then scanners, and then fax machines. In 2006, Burton & Huffman (2006b) found major accessibility barriers in the representative multifunction printer machines they tested. Eghtesadi et al. (2002) examined popular copiers and found that most machines did not include accessibility features.

A recent study (McDonnall, O'Mally, & Crudden, 2014) found that most employers were unaware of how people with vision loss could perform typical job tasks. In particular, less than one-quarter were aware of how people with visual impairments could access general office equipment.

Huffman, Uslan, Burton, and Eghtesadi (2009) evaluated the accessibility and usability of two multifunction printer access solutions for people with vision loss: Canon's Voice Guidance Kit, an embedded system within the multifunction printer, and Xerox's Copier Assistant, a dedicated computer connected to the multifunction printer. Eight participants who are visually impaired tested these two systems and, overall, were successful in performing most of the required tasks. The embedded access functionality was preferred over the option that required the use of a separate computer. Participants gave detailed suggestions for improving each of the access solutions.

The present study included two phases. The first was a follow-up to the 2009 evaluation by Huffman et al. (2009) that examined the accessibility and usability of three current multifunction printer accessibility solutions from Canon, Ricoh, and Lexmark. Access technology has changed rapidly. At the time of the 2009 study, there were no multifunction printers whose access solutions used a web interface. This follow-up study was critical in order for this new paradigm to be evaluated for accessibility. In addition, since the access functionality in the Canon machine had been significantly changed, it too was included in this study. The second phase of this study was a web-based survey of current users of multifunction printer systems who are visually impaired in order to learn how multifunction printers are being used, to gather information on accessibility problems being encountered, and to learn the relative importance of specific multifunction printer features.

Usability study methodology

In order to achieve the goal of full accessibility, manufacturers of multifunction printers need to take a universal design approach. According to Steinfeld and Maisel (2012), universal design involves improving our environment, products, and systems to meet the goal of full inclusion.

Universal design focuses on creating products that can be used by the widest audience possible, ensuring that products are simple to use, and that they include perceptible information regardless of how they are used (Story, Mueller, & Mace, 1998).

For people who are visually impaired to operate a multifunction printer independently, the following basic characteristics are required:

1. nonvisual access to the information and tasks available on control screen(s);

2. optimized visual characteristics of embedded small touch-screen liquid crystal displays;

3. large print, high-contrast control buttons that are tactilely and visually distinguishable from their surroundings; and.

4. accessible operating manuals.

For multifunction printers, the most challenging of these requirements are the first two, ensuring access to the visual characteristics conveyed by embedded touch screens.


The current usability study reexamined the Canon access solution in the 2009 study. In addition, access solutions for Ricoh and Lexmark were evaluated. Xerox's Copier Assistant, which was evaluated in 2009, has not been updated to work with newer operating systems, so it was not reevaluated in this study. See Table 1 for a list of the capabilities of the three multifunction printers evaluated in this study. Evaluations for all three access solutions were performed with the Non-Visual Desktop Access (NVDA) screen reader paired with Firefox, and the JAWS for Windows screen reader paired with Internet Explorer.

Ricoh, Lexmark, and Canon use different methods for providing accessibility to their multifunction printers. Both Ricoh and Lexmark use browser-based systems for providing access to their respective document centers. Ricoh's Access Module has a web application or "app" that uses nonstandard controls, and the Lexmark Accessibility Solution uses a web interface with standard HTML controls; both are accessible from devices with web-browsing capability. Canon uses a text-to-speech system called Canon Voice Guidance that is built directly into the document center and is controlled with the hardware keypad.

Unlike the other multifunction printers in this study, Canon uses a built-in text-to-speech solution to provide access to its document centers. Its Voice Operation Kit allows individuals to utilize the tactile keypad to navigate menus and initiate jobs with speech feedback. Users can change the text-to-speech voice used, adjust the volume, and adjust the speed of the voice.


Ten volunteers with vision loss participated in this evaluation. Participants were contacted and invited to participate by a local blindness agency in West Virginia. Volunteers included seven males and three females, with ages ranging from 22 to 71 years. Eight were visually impaired since birth, and two became visually impaired before the age of 20. Five were able to access print using magnification; the others were not print users. For the purposes of this report, those who used their vision to read will be referred to as having low vision, and those who did not use their vision to read will be referred to as blind. All but one participant had experience using copiers, although experience for several was minimal.


Test administrators provided a description of the overall testing process to participants, including a brief description of each machine and its accessibility solution as well as an explanation of the layout of the keys and their functions. Participants were allowed to tactually and visually examine the controls and ask questions. Test administrators demonstrated the use of the interface, allowing users to view and listen to the entire process. The order of machine testing was randomized for each participant.

Participants were asked to attempt to complete the following four tasks for each of the accessibility solutions:

* make three copies of a three-page document, and collate the output;

* make a double-sided copy of a two-page document;

* scan a two-page document and save the image to a computer; and

* scan a two-page document and e-mail the image to a recipient.

One at a time, each task was described and participants were given as much time as they needed to complete the task before going on to the next one. Participants were told that they could ask questions or use the system's help feature whenever they desired. Test administrators took detailed notes along the way, and all sessions were videotaped. Test administrators assigned a success rating to each task performed on a scale from 1 to 5, as follows:

* Rating 1: Not successful at the task

* Rating 2: Successful after the test administrator's involvement and assistance

* Rating 3: Successful after hesitation and asking several questions

* Rating 4: Successful after asking a few questions

* Rating 5: Successful after asking minimal questions or completing the task independently

Usability study results

The average performance rating for participants over the four tasks was 4.8 out of 5 for the Lexmark, 4.5 for the Canon, and 4.2 for the Ricoh, indicating a high rate of success for the accessibility-solution tasks on all multifunction printers. The average rating for each task, by machine, was over 4.0 (successful after asking a few questions), except for Task 1 on the Ricoh (3.6). Out of the 120 individual machine-task combinations (10 participants, 3 machines, 4 tasks each), only 10 yielded scores lower than 4.0, and the majority of these lower scores were for the same participant. Looking at all the machines together, the overall success rate increased over the four tasks (Task 1, 4.1; Task 2, 4.6; Task 3, 4.6, Task 4, 4.8) despite the fact that the tasks were ordered from less complex to more, indicating a learning effect.

Ricoh's app requires the screen reader to switch from using the HTML web interface to using arrow keys to navigate. Due to its nonstandard interface, the web app does not work well with all screen readers and browsers. The best combination is the Firefox web browser in conjunction with the NVDA screen reader.

Lexmark's web interface uses standard HTML controls that allow it to be used on all devices with a web browser. Standard links, edit fields, and buttons are used in a simple and unadorned HTML web interface, allowing pages to load faster and offering a better experience for users of mobile devices. Multiple jobs can be submitted and launched with unique codes that are generated; users need not return to the accessible interface to begin another task if they have many to complete in a row. Because Lexmark follows good accessibility practices in their HTML web interface, a specific browser and screen reader combination is not needed for best results.

Participants overwhelmingly selected the Lexmark machine as their preferred access solution: eight participants selected Lexmark, one selected both Lexmark and Canon, and one selected Canon. Whether the participants had low vision or were blind did not affect their machine preference.

Lexmark was generally chosen due to its familiar, intuitive HTML web interface. With the Canon solution, users could not independently set up a sequence of often-used tasks and set them as "favorites"; they required assistance from a sighted person. Once created, individuals with visual impairments were able to use favorites independently.

In contrast to the results of the 2009 multifunction printer evaluation (Huffman et al., 2009), which found that participants who were blind performed better at the assigned tasks than did those with low vision, the current study found no difference. On average, the five blind participants scored 4.5 across all the tasks, and the five with low vision averaged 4.6.

Survey methodology


The survey described here included responses from 26 multifunction printer users who are blind (defined in this study as those who do not use their vision to read) and 34 who have low vision (defined as those who primarily use their vision to read). The sample consisted of 58% women and 42% men, with a median age range of 45 to 54 years old. The vast majority of the sample was white (83%), with 17% nonwhite or of mixed race. Seventy-eight percent were college graduates, and half of these graduates had also attended graduate school. Most were employed either full-time (57%) or part-time (8%). Their median income range was $40,000 to $60,000. Nineteen percent had a household income of $20,000 or less, and 8% earned more than $100,000 per year. The majority of respondents were visually impaired from birth (63%), with a total of 80% being visually impaired before age 18. Eighty-two percent of respondents had received some formal training to accommodate their vision loss and were most likely to have had training or rehabilitation services provided at school (42%).


Respondents were recruited by an announcement in AccessWorld, as well as through distribution in a number of organizations serving people who are visually impaired. Individuals were invited to visit a web page where they could participate in the survey using the website Survey Monkey (<>). Participants responded to mostly multiple-choice questions, although there were also several open-ended questions.

Survey results

The majority of respondents (67%) reported that they have used multifunction printers at their workplace. A total of 77% have used multifunction printers either at their workplace or at home for work purposes. However, the largest number of respondents (80%) used multifunction printers at home for personal use. The most common brand of multifunction printers used by participants was Hewlett-Packard, followed by Canon.

The most important function of multifunction printers for participants was printing, followed by scanning, then copying (see Table 2). All three of these functions were selected by a majority of respondents as being very or somewhat important to their specific needs. Faxing was the least important function, yet almost half thought it was very or somewhat important. Printing and copying were used more than once a week by the majority of respondents, and faxing was used by only a quarter of the participants more than once a week. Surprisingly, scanning, which was the second most important function reported by participants, was used at least once a week by only 49%. Thirty-nine percent of respondents used the print function six or more times a week, followed by the copy function, used more than six times a week by 18% of the sample; few used the scan and fax functions as often. A majority of participants (58%) used assistive technology to make their multifunction printers usable.

Respondents were given a list of techniques they would prefer to use to make multifunction printer controls and displays more usable. Blind participants responded to a list of nonvisual techniques, and those with low vision were given a list of visual techniques.

For controls, participants with low vision were most likely to prefer larger characters on labeling, followed by high contrast between background and labeling, and high contrast between background and controls. Almost all those who were blind chose speech-output software, followed closely by tactile controls; braille dots or bumps were chosen by almost two-thirds of the participants (see Table 3). Although respondents with low vision were not directly asked about speech output for displays, five individuals in this group wrote in that they wanted this feature. Similarly, this group was not asked about tactile identification, but two individuals indicated their preference for such markings on their survey. Presumably, if speech output and tactile marking had been asked about specifically in the survey that people with low vision responded to, a larger number of individuals would have chosen these options. Other preferences that were reported included a tilting screen, the ability to control the printer directly from a smartphone, use of different colors for function buttons, and the inclusion of a cancel button for each function.

For displays, respondents with low vision were most likely to choose high-contrast and larger characters, followed by low glare and built-in screen magnification; less than half preferred a brighter screen (see Table 4). Almost all respondents who are blind chose speech-output software; less than half indicated they preferred braille displays. Additional techniques mentioned by participants included larger display screens, being able to change settings using a smart phone or other device connected to the web, and being able to change the background and foreground colors. As with control preferences, those with low vision were not asked about speech output, yet four individuals in this group indicated on the survey that they wanted this function; it seems likely that if speech output had been given as an option, a large percentage of respondents would have chosen it. Future surveys on the topic of multifunction printers should include nonvisual technique choices for people with some remaining vision.

Statistical analyses (ANOVA and Chi-square) were conducted comparing the low vision group to the blind group on all responses to the questions in this survey. Note that almost all questions were identical for all respondents, regardless of their degree of vision loss; survey items that addressed access techniques were parallel though not identical. There was only one statistically significant difference between these groups--those with low vision were significantly more likely to use the multifunction printer's copy function with higher frequency than were those who are blind (p < .002). Importance of the copy function, however, did not turn out to be significantly different for these groups.


The survey of individuals who use multifunction printers gathered information on how people with vision loss use these devices, how important their functions are to this group, and what their preferences are for accessibility related to the devices. The usability test studied the use of three existing access solutions by participants who are visually impaired.

Despite having little time to familiarize themselves with the products, participants' performance ratings were quite high for all the multifunction printer accessibility solutions, indicating that the solutions are not difficult to learn. Of the three multifunction printers whose accessibility solutions were tested, Lexmark was the most popular. It included a simple, well-designed interface with which Internet users were familiar, and included the largest number of accessible features, which allowed participants to quickly understand how to accomplish assigned tasks. For the Canon access solution, which was next in popularity, a big drawback was that individuals had to set up certain functions before they could use them independently of sighted help. Ricoh was the least favorite of the three solutions. Its interface was less intuitive and violated some of the standards of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (W3C, 2014).

The access solution for the Canon multifunction printer had the advantage of being integrated into the machine, allowing participants to use it without any preparation. The accessibility solutions for the Ricoh and Lexmark multifunction printers relied on separate devices, and input devices that are separate from the multifunction printer introduce additional security concerns (Naraine, 2013).

Although the Lexmark accessibility solution received the highest success ratings, and Ricoh the lowest, average scores were rather high for all, indicating that all the systems could be learned without a great deal of difficulty. A clear learning effect was demonstrated by participants over the four tasks they were asked to perform. Although the tasks were ordered by difficulty, success ratings increased over the four tasks. This finding is encouraging and suggests that people can quickly learn these systems and will become better at using them as time progresses.
Box 1

Recommended improvements for the
multifunction printer accessibility

Canon Voice Guidance

** allow favorites settings to have meaningful
names, rather than numbers

** use a more understandable voice

** include a mechanism for silencing
the voicing

** reduce glare on keyboard and plastic
surface in between keys

** use larger text with better contrast

Lexmark Accessibility Solution

** increase the visual contrast of buttons

** increase the tactile contrast between
buttons and background *

** include larger text on labels *

** include a larger, easier-to-find start
button *

** enlarge and center the nib on the center
button *

** voice "collate" and "group" rather than
"on" and "off"

** voice or add sound when keys
are pressed

Ricoh Access Module

** reduce the amount of voicing

** provide better access for screen

** add an activation button, rather than
starting automatically when the start
feature is scrolled to

** make the interface more intuitive

** follow web standards to enable better
cross-browser and cross-screen reader

* After this usability test was conducted,
Lexmark added an optional sticker overlay,
effectively solving these problems.

Suggestions from users to improve the access solutions they tested included making the text larger, reducing glare, increasing contrast, and providing voice output. These suggestions mirrored the findings of the user survey regarding preferences. In the user survey, respondents with low vision preferred larger characters on controls and displays, high contrast between background and controls and between background and labeling, low glare on displays, and screen magnification. Those who were blind preferred speech output, for controls and displays, and tactilely distinguishable controls. Most did not indicate that they wanted a braille display. See Box 1 for a list of recommended improvements for each of the three multifunction printers tested in the usability study.

It is important to note that survey respondents who used their vision to read indicated that they would like to have nonvisual techniques available to them. Specifically, respondents mentioned wanting to have speech output and tactile markers. Having multiple methods to obtain information increases the accessibility of a product. Surveys addressing accessibility that are aimed at people who have low vision must be sure to include nonvisual techniques as well as visual ones.

The user survey results demonstrate that printing, scanning, and copying are the most important functions of a multifunction printer for people with vision loss. Participants with low vision were significantly more likely to use the copy function than were those who are blind. Although faxing was clearly less important to respondents, it was still considered an important feature by almost half of the respondents.

Based on the findings of the usability study and the user survey, the following recommendations are proposed for developers of multifunction printer access solutions:

* Develop an access solution that is integrated with the multifunction printer device rather than one that requires a separate device for accessibility.

* Use a U.S. standard QWERTY keyboard interface, since most users will already have experience with such keyboards and will find tasks easier and quicker to learn with such an interface.

* Make labels, controls, and on-screen text larger, with high contrast.

* Ensure that speech is available for all tasks.

* Offer multiple methods to perform a function (speech plus touch plus text, for example).

In general, we recommend that in order to optimize the design of visual displays, manufacturers should use large fonts when possible, declutter the interface and limit the amount of text and icons located on a single screen, offer a white-on-black color scheme that eliminates grayscales completely, ensure that screen elements are spaced appropriately, and use a low-glare display that can be tilted.

It is interesting to note that survey respondents were most likely to use Hewlett-Packard multifunction printers than any other, despite the lack of accessibility solutions for these machines, followed by Canon multifunction printers. These findings align with the general global market for multifunction printers: Hewlett-Packard has the largest market share worldwide (41%) for hardcopy peripherals, followed by Canon (20%) (International Data Corporation, 2013).

Implications for practitioners

Those working in the rehabilitation field need to be familiar with the access solutions for multifunction printers evaluated in this report, so they can make suggestions to potential employers about how people with visual impairments might be accommodated in the workplace. Rehabilitation workers should encourage their clients to become familiar with access solutions, since these are commonly used in the workplace. Knowledge of how these multifunction printers work may be beneficial to visually impaired individuals who are seeking employment.

Teachers of visually impaired children and young adults need to be aware of access solutions for multifunction printers, and they need to make sure their students are aware of them. Many students will need to be familiar with multifunction printers in order to increase their future job prospects. If schools can afford to purchase accessible multifunction printers, students with visual impairments could use these machines independently for their schoolwork when printing, copying, or scanning is required.


The user survey found that somewhat more people with vision loss use multifunction printers for personal use than for employment purposes. Those who use individual multifunction printers at home will benefit from the availability of accessible solutions in order to independently work from home or engage in social activities or individual interests that require multifunction printers.

Printing, scanning, copying, and faxing continue to be critical tasks that workers are expected to handle in a modern office. In order for the workplace to continue to be as accessible as possible to people with vision loss, the development or improvement of accessible, usable multifunction printers is essential. In addition to their importance for 508 compliance, accessible multifunction printers have the potential to ensure that people with vision loss are able to continue to perform the same tasks as their sighted colleagues in the workplace.

The contents of this publication were developed under a grant from the Department of Education, NIDRR grant number H133B100022, to the Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision at Mississippi State University. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and readers should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.

The contents of this publication were developed under a grant from the Department of Education, NIDRR grant number H133B100022, to the Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision at Mississippi State University. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and readers should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.


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Jaclyn Packer, Ph.D., research consultant, American Foundation for the Blind, American Foundation for the Blind, 2 Penn Plaza, Suite 1102, New York, NY 10121; e-mail: <>. William Reuschel, B.S., manager, Technical Solutions, American Foundation for the Blind, 1000 Fifth Avenue, Suite 350, Huntington, WV 25701; e-mail: <>.
Table 1
Capabilities of the three evaluated multifunction printers.

Variable                   Canon    Lexmark               Ricoh

Basic copy                  Yes     Yes                    Yes
Advanced copy             Partial   Yes                  Partial
Scan                       Yes *    Yes                    Yes
Fax                        Yes *    Yes                    Yes
Tactile keys                Yes     Yes, with optional     Yes
                                      sticker overlay
                                      that was not
                                      available at
                                      time of testing
Tilting display             Yes     Yes, but not           No
                                      available at
                                      time of testing
Reverse contrast option     Yes     No                     No
Access at machine           Yes     No                     No
Access from computer        No      Yes                    Yes
  or smartphone

* Destination must be preconfigured by system administrator.

Table 2
Importance and usage of multifunction printer functions (n varies
from 44 to 60).

                      Percent indicating
           Percent     that function is
            having     very or somewhat
Function   function       important

Copy         100%            65%
Scan         97%             67%
Print        92%             85%
Fax          75%             43%

           Percent indicating   Percent indicating
            that function is     that function is
             used more than      used six times a
Function     once per week         week or more

Copy              58%                  18%
Scan              49%                   9%
Print             85%                  39%
Fax               25%                   7%

Table 3
Preferred techniques for making multifunction printer controls
more usable.

Techniques                                          Percent

Visual techniques (asked only of those with low
vision; n = 34)
  Larger letters and numbers on labeling              85
  High contrast between background and labeling       76
  High contrast between background and controls       71
Nonvisual techniques (asked only of those who are
blind; n = 26)
  Speech-output software                              92
  Tactile controls                                    88
  Braille dots or bumps for identification            62

Table 4
Preferred techniques for making multifunction printer displays more

Techniques                                                 Percent

Visual techniques (asked only of those with low vision;
n = 34)
  High contrast between background and words and numbers
    on screen                                                79
  Larger letters and numbers on display                      76
  Low glare on display                                       65
  Built-in screen magnifier                                  65
  Brighter screen                                            41
Nonvisual techniques (asked only of those who are blind;
n = 26)
  Speech-output software                                     92
  Support for braille display                                46
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Author:Packer, Jaclyn; Reuschel, William
Publication:Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2016
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