Windows features a number of different options to make it easier for people who are differently-abled to use a computer.
Opening the Ease of Access Center
The Ease of Access Center is accessible by clicking the blue logo at the login screen.
Figure 1: Ease of Access Logo
A window will appear and let the user enable or disable many of the accessibility options we will discuss in this lesson. Windows will also read the options in the window to you if you move your mouse over an option. This enables some users to change accessibility options on the computer before they log into their user account.
To set accessibility options from the Control Panel, click Ease of Access ¿ Ease of Access Center:
Figure 2: Ease of Access heading.
If your computer is equipped with speakers, you will hear the narrator start reading the text on the screen when the Ease of Access Center first opens:
Figure 3: Ease of Access Center.
Changing Mouse Options
With the Ease of Access Center open, click "Make the mouse easier to use:"
Figure 4: Ease of Access Center with Make the mouse easier to use selected.
This section lets you choose a high-contrast color scheme for your mouse and/or choose a larger mouse pointer. Simply click the radio button beside the option you want and then click Apply to see how it looks.
Figure 5: Make the mouse easier to use settings.
The other commands available in this window are useful for people who have trouble using the mouse and holding it steady. Mouse Keys lets you use the 8, 6, 2, and 4 keys on the numeric keyboard to move the mouse pointer up, right, down, and left respectively. The Ease of Access Center can also have the mouse automatically put the focus on one window by hovering over it with the mouse.
When you are satisfied with the options on this screen, click the OK button to accept the changes.
Optimizing Your Display
If you have difficulty seeing things on the screen because of colorblindness or farsightedness, Windows can modify the color scheme and size of things on the screen to make the content easier to see. While in the Ease of Access Center, click "Make the computer easier to see:"
Figure 6: Ease of Access Center with Make the computer easier to see selected.
There are a number of different options available for use in this window. Let's break each of them down piece by piece. At the top of the list is the ability to enable a high contrast color scheme which displays white text on a black screen:
Figure 7: High contrast selected.
This particular mode is also useful if you are going to be using your computer outdoors or in a very bright area. The white-on-black text makes things much easier to see in a bright environment.
Next in the list is text narration. Voice synthesis has been around for several years, which allows a computer to read a piece of text aloud to you. Many translation programs are available that make a computer read text in one language and translate it to another. Windows 7 features a voice synthesizer that can read text in different dialog boxes.
Click the check box to enable or disable either feature:
Figure 8: Hear text and descriptions read aloud options.
The next section of the screen display focuses on being able to increase the size of text on your computer. Larger text is, of course, easier to read, although you will not be able to fit as much information on the screen:
Figure 9: Display size options.
The screen magnifier is another handy tool in the Ease of Access Center. It provides magnification to help someone who has trouble seeing. Click the check box to turn on the magnifier and click Apply. Your entire screen will become magnified; by default it will be twice as large:
Figure 10: Magnifier settings.
The Magnifier dialog box offers several options. You can choose to have this tool start every time Windows starts, use 2x to 9x magnification, and choose if the magnification box will follow the mouse focus (by clicking a window), keyboard focus (by pressing Tab to jump to a text box), or text editing (where the mouse will follow the cursor in a text document).
When you are not changing a magnification setting, the Magnifier will fade away and become a magnifying glass. Click the glass to reopen the Magnifier options window.
The final section of this window offers some final tweaks to make different screen elements easier to see. If you have difficulty seeing or discerning between different colors, click "Adjust the color and transparency of the window borders:"
Figure 11: Window color and appearance.
Click "Fine tune display effects" to display the Appearance settings dialog box. Scroll to the bottom of the list until you reach the Basic and High Contrast themes:
Figure 12: Basic and High Contrast Themes.
Other enhancements include making the blinking cursor in a text box or word processing document thicker, and turning off unnecessary animations. This will help avoid confusion for people who have difficulty focusing on a computer screen.
Figure 13: Make things on screen easier to see.
As a final note on modifying the visual elements of Windows, one of the easiest things to try to make the screen easier to read is to decrease the screen resolution. Windows 7 requires a minimum resolution of 800x600 pixels.
Changing Input Methods
We know that the mouse settings can be modified to help differently-abled people use their computer. Now we will learn how you can modify the keyboard and even use a microphone to command your computer.
Click "Make the keyboard easier to use" in the Ease of Access Center:
Figure 14: Ease of Access center with Make the keyboard easier to use selected.
Let's review the different keyboard options. At the top of the window is the Mouse Keys option, which we know will move the cursor by using the arrow keys on the numeric keypad. The next option is a feature called Sticky Keys, which is used to replace multiple key shortcuts (such as Ctrl + Alt + Delete) by pressing one key at a time.
Figure 15: Sticky keys settings.
This is designed to help people with one limb or who use their mouth or feet to write to perform multiple key operations. For example, if you wanted to write "Hello, how are you?" while using only one finger, the key inputs would be:
Shift ' Shift h e l l o , <spacebar> h o w <spacebar> a r e <spacebar> y o u Shift / Shift '
Normally, you would make a double-quote or question mark by pressing Shift + ', or Shift + / respectively. With Sticky Keys enabled, you instead press Shift (your computer's internal speaker will beep) and then press the next key as if you still had the Shift key held down.
Sticky Keys is activated by checking the box to enable it, or by pressing the Shift Key five times in succession. You can disable Sticky Keys by pressing two keys at once. These options and more are available by clicking Set up Sticky Keys:
Figure 16: Setting up sticky keys.
The next keyboard enhancement is Toggle Keys, which plays a tone when the Caps Lock, Num Lock, or Scroll Lock keys are pressed. This was designed as a notification to let you know when these keys have been pressed and avoid frustration over why the computer SUDDENLY DECIDED TO PUT EVERYTHING IN CAPITAL LETTERS.
Figure 17: Toggle Keys options.
The final keyboard enhancement is called Filter Keys. This is designed to help people with unsteady hands more effectively by filtering out sudden multiple keystrokes.
Figure 18: Filter Keys options.
Filter Keys is also designed to ignore keystrokes from people who tap their fingers on the keyboard. Click Set up Filter Keys for more advanced options:
Figure 19: Advanced filter keys options.
This section of the Ease of Access Center also lets you specify how long the computer should wait for a key to be pressed before responding to a keystroke.
The final two keyboard options help by always underlining keyboard shortcuts and prevent windows from being arranged when they are dragged to the edge of the screen (Aero Snap):
Figure 20: Underline keyboard shortcuts and prevent automatic arranging options.
Windows supports other accessibility options as well, such as the use of an on-screen keyboard and voice recognition. In the Ease of Access Center, click "Use the computer without a mouse or keyboard:"
Figure 21: Ease of Access Center with Use the computer without a mouse or keyboard selected.
Windows 7 supports touch and multiple touch hardware. This means that you can use your finger or a stylus to interact with items on a touch-sensitive screen.
Figure 22: Use a computer without a mouse or keyboard settings.
The on-screen keyboard gives you full access to a keyboard you can use to with the mouse, your finger, or a stylus:
Figure 23: On-screen keyboard.
You can still use the actual keyboard when the on-screen keyboard has been enabled.
One final accessibility feature of Windows 7 is voice recognition. You can use a microphone to open programs and type documents. Click the Use Speech Recognition link to open the Speech Recognition Options window:
Figure 24: Speech Recognition Configuration menu.
Speech recognition is not new; in fact, IBM and other partners were experimenting with automated speech recognition as early as the 1940. The fundamentals of speech recognition will be explored in CSULB's Windows 7 Expert courseware; however, if you want to experiment with it, remember to speak clearly, not too fast and not too slow, and have patience. The more you use speech recognition, the more accurately your computer will detect your voice.
Accessing Commonly Used Options
You can access a number of the most commonly-used accessibility options in the Start menu. Click Start > All Programs > Accessories > Ease of Access:
Figure 25: Ease of Access in the start menu.