Using Windows Accessibility Features

Windows XP and Windows Vista include a long list of accessibility features and utilities that can make your computer easier to use. These include adjustments and alternatives to the standard display, sounds, keyboard, and mouse performance, and a utility that accepts inputs from a pointing device or a joystick.

Using the Accessibility Wizard

The Accessibility Wizard combines many of the Windows accessibility features into a single sequence of dialog boxes. You might find a few additional combinations if you set the options one at a time, but the wizard makes the whole process a lot faster and easier.


Before you run the Accessibility Wizard, save the current theme using the Display Properties dialog box. If the result of the wizard isn't what you want or need, it's easy to get back to where you started.

To run the Accessibility Wizard using a mouse, open the Start menu and choose All Programs (in the Windows XP Start menu) or Programs (in the Classic Start Menu) image from book Accessories image from book Accessibility image from book Accessibility Wizard. Using a keyboard, press Ctrl+Esc or the Windows logo key, and then press the R key and type accwiz in the Run window.

Following the introductory screen, the next two dialog boxes in the Accessibility Wizard offer several options for changing the appearance of the Windows desktop. The Text Size screen, shown in Figure 30.1, offers to increase the size of the on-screen text, but it doesn't change the size of text embedded in graphic images. Choose the smallest text that you can easily read and click Next.

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Figure 30.1: Use the Text Size dialog box to increase the size of type and windows.

Next, the Display Settings dialog box (shown in Figure 30.2) offers more options to change the size of many screen elements.

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Figure 30.2: The Display Settings dialog box includes more options to make things bigger on the screen.

When you click the Next button, Windows immediately makes the changes you requested and ask if you want to keep them. If you don't like the changes, click Cancel to return to the Display Settings dialog box and disable the option you don't like.

The next screen (Figure 30.3) asks you to choose the options that describe your requirements.

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Figure 30.3: Choose the options you want to adjust in this dialog box.

When you click Next, the Wizard moves on to the specific set of options and adjustments that apply to the special requirements you specified. Choose each of the settings that best fits your own specific requirements and move through the Wizard.

The last option on the list applies to administrative options. If you choose this option, the wizard opens a dialog box that offers to turn off the accessibility features after the computer has been idle for a specified period of time. This might be useful if you share your computer with other users, but you have to re-load your enhanced options as a theme when you return to the computer yourself.

If you prefer, you can change display settings and turn on other accessibility utilities one at a time. The next few sections explain what each of them does and how to use them.

Adjusting the display

The same Display Properties options that allow you to customize the appearance of your Windows desktop and other on-screen elements also make it possible to optimize the display for users with impaired vision. Additional tools can make Web pages easier to read and magnify on-screen images.


For more about adjusting the display, see Chapter 28.

Changing the desktop

Users with impaired vision can change the appearance of objects on the screen to improve visibility. When you change such elements as the size, style, and colors of text, icons, and images, and by changing the cursor's size and blink rate, these objects can be much easier to see. For example, the screen shown in Figure 30.4 shows a very high-contrast color scheme with extra-large fonts.

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Figure 30.4: This scheme uses high-contrast colors and enormous fonts to make the screen elements easier to see.

To set the screen elements for maximum readability, follow these steps:

  1. Move the cursor to an empty spot in the desktop and click the right mouse button.

  2. Choose Properties from the pop-up menu, or select Display from the Control Panel. The Display Properties window opens.

  3. Choose the Appearance tab. The dialog box shown in Figure 30.5 appears.

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    Figure 30.5: Use the Appearance tab to select more visible screen elements.

  4. To create a high-contrast color scheme, open the drop-down Windows and buttons menu, select Windows Classic style, and choose one of the High Contrast options from the Color scheme menu. Each High Contrast option is optimized for a different type of limited vision, so you should examine all four before you settle on one of them.

  5. To increase the size of the on-screen fonts, choose either Large or Extra Large from the Font size menu.

Using Magnifier

Magnifier is a Windows utility that creates a magnified version of the regular desktop (including all open windows) either in the top part of the screen or in a floating window. Figure 30.6 shows a magnified screen. To turn on the Magnifier, select Start image from book All Programs image from book Accessories image from book Accessibility image from book Magnifier.

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Figure 30.6: The Magnifier utility displays a larger version of part of the Windows desktop and open windows.


Using the Magnifier changes the locations of some icons on your desktop. You may have to look around to find a particular program that has moved from where you had it before changing your display.

The Magnifier Settings dialog box, shown in Figure 30.7, controls the Magnifier options:

  • The Magnification level menu can increase or reduce the size of the magnified image.

  • When the Follow mouse cursor option is active, the magnified image moves when you move your mouse.

  • When Follow keyboard focus is active, the center of the magnified image moves as you use the Tab key to choose an option or change the active window.

  • When Follow text editing is active, the magnified image moves as you type, so the current text stays within the magnified window.

  • When Invert colors is active, the magnified image uses a reversed color scheme within the magnified window. The inverted colors often provide higher contrast than the original color scheme.

  • When Start Minimized is active, the Magnifier program opens as a button in the taskbar at the bottom of the screen instead of an open window.

  • The Show Magnifier option opens the magnified window. To hide the window, disable Show Magnifier, or right-click within the magnified window and choose Hide from the pop-up list.

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Figure 30.7: Use the Magnifier Settings dialog box to adjust the performance and appearance of the magnified image.

To increase or decrease the size of the magnified image, drag the bottom of the magnified section of the screen up or down. To move the magnified image into a floating window, position your cursor inside the magnified image, click, hold the button, and drag it toward the bottom of the screen.

As an alternative to the Magnifier program, Microsoft also offers a free Taskbar Magnifier program that can display a magnified image of part of the desktop in the taskbar, as shown in Figure 30.8. This program is available for download at

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Figure 30.8: The Toolbar magnifier displays an expanded version of part of the Windows desktop. Move your mouse to move the magnified section.

Changing Web pages

The most recent version of Internet Explorer (IE 7) includes a Zoom option that can magnify the size of the image within the browser window, as shown in Figure 30.9. Microsoft includes a free upgrade to IE 7 as part of the Windows Update program; if you have an earlier version of Internet Explorer, run Widows Update from the Internet Explorer Tools menu now.

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Figure 30.9: Use the Internet Explorer Zoom feature to increase or decrease the size of Web pages.

To change the image, click the arrow next to the current percentage number in the lower right corner of the browser window, and choose the amount of magnification you want. To rapidly change among 100 percent, 125 percent, and 150 percent, click the current number. If your mouse has a scrolling wheel, you can also zoom in and out by holding down the Ctrl key and moving the wheel up or down.

Most Web sites use fonts that have been specified by the designer of each page. To override these settings and instruct Internet Explorer to use a large, easy-to-read typeface for all text (except text embedded within a graphic image in a Web page or an e-mail message), follow these steps:

  1. Open Internet Explorer.

  2. Click the Size icon in the toolbar. The submenu shown in Figure 30.10 appears.

    image from book
    Figure 30.10: Use the Text Size option in the Tools menu to change the type size in Internet Explorer.

  3. Choose the Larger or Largest option from the Text Size submenu.

  4. Open the Tools menu (with the gear icon) and choose Internet Options. The dialog box shown in Figure 30.11 appears under the General tab.

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    Figure 30.11: The General tab of the Internet Options window controls several elements of the browser's display.

  5. Click the Accessibility tab at the lower right part of the dialog box. The Accessibility dialog box shown in Figure 30.12 appears.

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    Figure 30.12: Use the Accessibility options to override font sizes and styles in Web pages.

  6. Turn on the Ignore font styles and Ignore font sizes options, and click OK. The Accessibility window closes.

  7. Back in the General tab, click the Fonts button at the bottom of the window. The Fonts dialog box shown in Figure 30.13 appears.

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    Figure 30.13: Choose the fonts you want to see in Web pages.

  8. Choose the fonts you want the browser to use from each of the font menus. When you select a font, a sample appears in the box directly below that menu; select a font in each column that is easy for you to read and click OK.

  9. In the Internet Options window, click OK to save your changes and close the dialog box.

On-screen cues

Some users might have difficulty seeing the LED indicator lights in the keyboard that light when Caps Lock, Num Lock, or Scroll Lock are active. The ToggleKeys utility sounds an audible signal when a user turns one of those functions on; and another signal, an octave higher, sounds when the user turns it off.

To turn Toggle Keys on or off, hold down the Num Lock key for five seconds. When ToggleKeys activates, an information window appears that asks you to confirm that you want to keep the utility on.

Text-to-speech translation

Windows includes a relatively simple text-to-speech program called Narrator that can read items in several on-screen items, including the Windows desktop, Windows setup, Notepad, WordPad, Internet Explorer, and many Control Panel programs.

To turn on Narrator, select Start image from book Programs image from book Accessories image from book Accessibility image from book Narrator. To use a different voice, or to change the speed, volume, and pitch of the voice, click the Voice button to open the Voice Settings window.

Several more sophisticated text-to-speech programs are available from third-party sources, including:




2nd Speech Center

Aldo's Text-to-WAVE


Many of these programs use Microsoft's Speech Application Program Interface (SAPI 5.1) and speech engines made by Lernout & Hauspie or AT&T. If a text-to-speech program requires additional software, you can find links to sources on its Web site. The AT&T Natural Voices in particular are much less artificial-sounding that the Microsoft Sam voice supplied with Windows.

Adjusting or replacing sounds

Windows and many application programs associate sounds with many actions and conditions, including alarms and notices of incoming messages through the Internet or a local network. Users with hearing impairment and users in noisy environments may have difficulty hearing those signals, so Windows provides visual alternatives to audible signals and messages. These include special sound schemes, on-screen captions, and visual signals.

Turn up the volume

In some cases, the only thing necessary to make sounds from your computer easier to hear is to make the sound louder. The Windows Volume Control (Start image from book All Programs image from book Accessories image from book Entertainment image from book Volume Control) and the physical volume control knob on the external speakers connected to your computer both provide ways to turn up the volume.

Sound schemes

A sound scheme is the set of sounds that Windows and other programs produce when specific events occur. For example, the vaguely musical sounds that play when Windows starts and ends, and the famous AOL "You've got mail" alert, are all part of sound schemes. If you (or another user of your computer) have hearing limitations that make sounds within a limited range of audio frequencies easier to hear than others, you can use an audio recording and editing program to create new WAV files to replace the ones in the Windows Default Sound Scheme.


See Chapter 27 for step-by-step instructions for creating a new sound scheme.

ShowSounds and SoundSentry

ShowSounds and SoundSentry are Windows utilities that display signals on the screen when audible signals occur. ShowSounds displays text for speech and sounds, and SoundSentry flashes the active caption bar, window, or the entire desktop when the system produces a sound.

To turn on ShowSounds, SoundSentry or both, open the Control Panel, select Accessibility options, and choose the Sound tab.

SoundSentry only works when the computer's internal speaker is in use, so it's necessary to turn off the sound card or sound controller that drives external speakers. To disable the sound controller, follow these steps:

  1. From the Control Panel, open Sounds and Audio Devices.

  2. In the Sounds and Audio devices dialog box, choose the Hardware tab.

  3. In the list of devices, select the name of the sound controller and click Properties.

  4. In the sound controller Properties dialog box, choose the Properties tab.

  5. In the list of Multimedia devices, open the Audio Devices submenu and select the sound controller. Click the Properties button at the bottom of the dialog box.

  6. In the new Properties dialog box, choose the General tab and select Do not use audio features on this device.

  7. Click the OK buttons in all the open dialog boxes to close the boxes and save your changes.

Mouse options and alternatives

Windows and the utilities supplied with many mouse drivers include several options that can make a mouse, trackball, or other pointing device easier for people with limited fine motor skills to use. To use these options, open the Mouse Properties window from the Control Panel. The specific set of options is different for different makes and models, but the most common ones include:

  • Double-Click Speed: Set the double-click speed to Slow to allow more time to complete the sequence of two clicks.

  • ClickLock or DragLock: This option allows a user to click an item and drag it without holding down a mouse button.

  • Pointer Speed: This sets the rate at which the mouse cursor moves across the screen.

  • SnapTo or SmartMove: This automatically moves the cursor to the default button in a new dialog box.

  • Cursor or Pointer Trails: This adds shadow images behind the cursor, which makes it easier to follow as it moves across the screen.

  • Pointer Schemes: This changes the set of on-screen cursors and pointers. Options include high-contrast and extra-large pointers.

  • Reverse Left and Right Buttons: This swaps the functions of the left and right mouse buttons. Because the left button is used most often, it should be under the strongest finger.


Windows also includes the MouseKeys utility that allows a user to control the mouse pointer with the numeric keypad at the right side of most desktop keyboards, and the numeric keypad option on a laptop keyboard.

To turn on MouseKeys, follow these steps:

  1. From the Control Panel, choose Accessibility Options.

  2. Open the Mouse tab. The dialog box shown in Figure 30.14 appears.

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    Figure 30.14: Turn on MouseKeys to control the mouse pointer with your numeric keypad.

  3. Activate the Use MouseKeys option and click the Settings button. The Settings for MouseKeys dialog box shown in Figure 30.15 opens.

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    Figure 30.15: Use the Settings window to control MouseKeys options.

  4. Set the options to control the way you want MouseKeys to respond. Click OK to close each window. Notice that there's now an image of a two-button mouse in the system tray.

To use the numeric keypad as a replacement for your mouse, press the Num Lock key. If the icon in the system tray shows a slash through it, push Num Lock again.

MouseKeys accepts these commands from the numeric keypad:

  • Press one of the arrow keys to move the pointer in the direction of that arrow.

  • Press the 1, 3, 7, or 9 key to move the pointer diagonally.

  • Press the 5 key to click.

  • Press the + key to right-click

  • Press the Ins and then an arrow or diagonal key to drag an object such as a desktop icon.

  • Press the Del key to release an object.

Alternatives to conventional mice

Many alternative devices are available for users who have difficulty using conventional mice and trackballs. These include touch screens, joysticks, foot pedals, puff switches, and cameras or infrared devices that follow eye movements or head movements. For more information, run a Web search using the keywords assistive technology or start at the Microsoft guide to assistive technology products at

Keyboard options and alternatives

Several Windows utilities can assist users who have difficulty operating a keyboard. These include StickyKeys, which allows a user to enter multiple-key commands by pressing one key at a time; FilterKeys, which instructs Windows to ignore keys held down for an extended period of time; and an On-Screen Keyboard that allows a user to enter keystrokes with a mouse.

To run StickyKeys or FilterKeys, open the Control Panel and select Accessibility Options. The Keyboard tab in the Accessibility Options window, shown in Figure 30.16, contains the controls for both programs, along with ToggleKeys (described earlier, in the "On-screen cues" section).

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Figure 30.16: Use the Accessibility Options control to turn StickyKeys and FilterKeys on or off.


StickyKeys allows people who have difficulty pressing two keys or more at the same time to enter keyboard shortcuts and other commands that use multiple keys, such as Ctrl+F4, Alt+Esc, or Ctrl+Alt+Del. StickyKeys makes it practical to use these commands with one finger, or with a head stick or mouthstick.

To turn StickyKeys on or off, press either Shift key five times. When you turn the program on or off, you will hear a series of tones. When StickyKeys is active, pressing Shift, Ctrl, Alt, or the Windows Logo key once latches that key down until you press some other, non-latching key. If you press a latching key twice, it stays down until you press the same key one more time.


Erratic motion tremors, slow response time, or other random hand or finger motion can produce unwanted inputs, so FilterKeys can disable the keyboard input features that would otherwise respond to rapid or prolonged keystrokes.

FilterKeys includes two options: RepeatKeys, which can adjust or disable the repeat rate, and SlowKeys, which instructs the computer to ignore rapidly repeated keystrokes. To configure FilterKeys, click the FilterKeys Settings button in the Keyboard tab of the Accessibility Options window.

When FilterKeys is active, you can turn it on or off by holding the right Shift key down for five seconds. (The Settings dialog box says eight seconds, but on some computers it might turn on or off after five seconds. Go figure.)

On-Screen Keyboard

The On-Screen Keyboard included in Windows (Start image from book All Programs image from book Accessories image from book Accessibility image from book On-Screen Keyboard) shown in Figure 30.17 can accept mouse clicks or commands from a joystick or other pointing device. Microsoft admits that On-Screen Keyboard is a klunky program (they call it a limited solution) that does not lend itself to daily use, but it does have its uses.

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Figure 30.17: On-Screen Keyboard accepts inputs from a mouse or other pointing device.

Several third-party on-screen virtual keyboards offer more and better features for users who can't use a physical keyboard. Each has a somewhat different feature set, so you need to examine all of them before you install one. For more information, see the developers' Web sites:

WiVik On-Screen Keyboard Software



MiloSoft Virtual On-Screen Keyboard

REACH Interface Author

The Grid

Gus! Access Keyboard

Alternative keyboards

In some cases, replacing the conventional QWERTY keyboard with a keyboard designed for users with special needs can be all that is necessary. This category can include traditional keyboards with big keys or large, high-contrast letters printed on the keys; keyboards with special layouts; keyboards for one-handed users; and keyboards for one-finger, head stick or mouthstick typing.

For links to sources for these keyboards, search the Web using the keywords adaptive keyboards or assistive keyboards.

PC User's Bible
PC Users Bible
ISBN: 0470088974
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2007
Pages: 372

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