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What is Skype?

Skype is a popular software application that uses the internet to make free audio and video calls. The application is free to use and it is free to make audio or video calls over the internet to other Skype users. Skype can also be used as an instant messaging application, allowing text messages to be instantly sent for free between Skype users. Skype also has a paid service where calls can be made from the Skype application to a standard telephone. As of early 2016, Skype has approximately 300 million active users worldwide.

Why try Skype?

The popularity of Skype is based largely on the ability to make free audio and video calls worldwide between Skype users, providing a reasonably fast and stable internet connection is present. Skype is especially beneficial when used across large distances where phone calls can be expensive. Some mobile companies such as Vodafone Australia also provide Skype services that piggyback their data network allowing Skype calls effectively for free without incurring any voice or data charges.

For people with disabilities Skype also provides some significant benefits. One of the biggest is the ability for users of sign language, such as people who are Deaf, to make sign-based video calls for free. People who are Deaf or hearing impaired who do not use sign language often use the instant messaging feature.

Skype features

  • Contacts: search for people you wish to call or message and add them into your personal contacts list.
  • Voice call: make a voice call to a contact, like using the telephone.
  • Video call: making a video call to your contact. This allows you and the contact to see and hear each other.
  • Instant Message (IM): this feature allows you to send a short text message to your contact.

Skype accessibility issues

The Skype application is available on many different devices including computers, smartphones and tablets. While not all versions of Skype are accessible, the current versions that run on the most popular devices generally work well with assistive technologies.

Overcoming Skype accessibility issues: tips and tricks

The research conducted by Media Access Australia and feedback from Skype users have provided a number of accessibility tips to help make Skype audio and video calls and send instant messages.

Skype for Windows - screen reader mode

Skype for Windows contains a feature to assist screen reader users, referred to as ‘Accessible mode’. To enable this mode, follow these steps:

  1. Select the ‘Tools’ pull-down menu
  2. Go to ‘Options’
  3. Go to ‘Advanced’
  4. Go to ‘Accessibility’
  5. Select ‘Enable accessible mode’

This should greatly improve the compatibility of your screen reader with Skype.

Skype for Mac

User feedback has indicated that Skype on the Mac works well with the built-in accessibility tools found in Mac OS such as the VoiceOver screen reader.

Skype on mobile devices

The iOS app for iPhone and iPad has been reported as being largely accessible. The Android app is also compatible with built-in accessibility features, although some users have reported the app being cumbersome to use.

Contacting Skype for help and other compatible devices

While the accessibility of Skype has been generally good on popular operating systems and devices, this is often not the case on other devices, especially customised devices that run a non-standard version of Skype or a customised Linux operating system that does not contain the necessary accessibility features. For specific information on the accessibility of Skype on your platform, refer to the Skype support website, or contact Skype directly.

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