There are several features built into Microsoft Windows and Office applications that allow users to adjust some of the settings to suit their own personal preferences. These features benefit all users, but are of particular interest to disabled users, especially those with visual, hearing or mobility impairments and dyslexia. The fact that these features exist in Windows mean that by careful use of the features you are likely to be able to make your computers more suitable for workers with disabilities.
Accessibility options in Windows
Windows 98 and upwards
The flexibility of these settings will depend on the version of Windows that you are using. With each new version, Microsoft has developed and enhanced the accessibility options, and with XP, introduced some brand-new features.
Magnifier and the Accessibility Wizard (described below) can be accessed via the Start menu, then Programs, Accessories, and Accessibility, and both are available in Windows 98 and upwards.
This allows users to enlarge the screen by up to 9 times. The magnified screen appears in a floating window that can be moved and re-sized. Only part of the magnified screen is visible. There are various options including tracking options, inverting colours, and using high contrast mode.
This wizard takes the user through various steps to change the appearance of the desktop. The first option asks the user to select the size of the text and other items on the screen, and once an option is selected the effects take place immediately. This also allows the Magnifier to be switched on. There are then 4 statements and the user must choose one, depending on his/her needs:
- I am blind or have difficulty seeing things on the screen
- I am deaf or have difficulty hearing sounds from the computer
- I have difficulty using the keyboard or mouse
- I want to set administrative options
This screen also allows the default settings to be restored.
The wizard now continues to take the user through more options, and different choices can be made depending on the statement selected. If the user selected the first choice, requesting visual help, he/she will be asked to choose scroll bar and window size, icon size, and colour schemes. If help with sound was requested, the user will be asked if he/she would like visual warning of system events (SoundSentry) and captions for speech and sounds (ShowSounds). If the user requested help with using the keyboard or mouse, he/she will be able to:
- Press keys in key combinations one at a time (StickyKeys) Note: this does not work with Jaws (a well known package used by blind users)
- Ask the system to ignore repeated key strokes (FilterKeys)
- Ask Windows to play a sound if Caps Lock, Num Lock or Scroll Lock keys are hit (ToggleKeys)
- Ask Windows to display extra keyboard help
- Use the numeric keypad instead of moving or clicking the mouse (MouseKeys)
- Change the size and colour of the mouse cursor
- Set the mouse for left-handed users
- Adjust the speed of the mouse pointer
- Set a trail for the mouse cursor
All of these settings can be individually enabled in the Accessibility Options in Control Panel, and users can make more detailed choices for each of the options. It is also possible to set an automatic reset so that accessibility features are turned off after a specified time, ask for a warning message or sound when a feature is turned on or off, and set SerialKeys which allow alternatives to keyboards and mice to be installed.
Choosing the administrative option from the 4 statements will also allow the automatic reset to be enabled, make the accessibility settings the default settings for the computer, and save the settings to a file for transportation to another PC.
Windows 2000 and upwards
Windows 2000 and upward have additional accessibility options such as:
- Accessibility Wizard, which allows users to change the screen resolution and disable Personalised Menus
- Utility Manager, which allows users to start, stop and check the status of accessibility programmes, and start accessibility programmes automatically
- Narrator, which is a text-to-speech feature but only works with Notepad, Control Panel, Internet Explorer, and the Windows desktop. This has various options, such as announcing events that happen on the screen, reading typed keys, reading the active item, and setting voice options such as speed, volume and pitch (Not available in ME)
- On-screen keyboard, which opens on top of applications but is small, cannot be enlarged, and is not predictive. This also has various settings, such as different keyboard layouts, fonts, clicks, and scanning or hovering modes
Microsoft Office 2000+
All Microsoft Office applications give the user the opportunity to personalise certain settings. Most of these options are available from the Tools menu, either in the Customise or Options windows:
- Underlined letters in menus, commands, or dialog box options, which allows the user to select options using the keyboard, rather than the mouse, by pressing the relevant key plus ALT
- Sound Feedback adds sounds to certain actions or events throughout Word and Office. For example, Word plays a sound when an alert appears or when a process is complete
- Office Assistant provides suggestions and tips as you work, in a pop-up window
- Large icons can be enabled
- Toolbars can be customised
- A list of shortcut keys can be printed, and personal ones can be assigned.
- AutoComplete completes words as they are typed, AutoCorrect corrects misspelled words as they are typed, and AutoFormat formats typing
XP also has the following additional features, available in Control Panel:
- ClickLock, which allows the user to drag or highlight without holding down the mouse key
- SnapTo, which moves the pointer to the default button in a dialogue box
- An option to hide the pointer while typing
- An option to show a brief animation to indicate the location of the cursor on pressing the CTRL key
- An option to change the voice of the text-to-speech programme
Internet Explorer 5+
Internet Explorer allows the user to customise several aspects of the displayed web page.
- Background, text and link colours can be altered if the author has used default settings (colours and sizes of graphics cannot be changed)
- A user can upload his/her own stylesheet to override any settings the author may have specified
- The toolbar can be customised
- ALT text for images can be automatically expanded
- The cursor can be instructed to follow the focus/selection changes - this enables screen readers or magnifiers to determine which area of the screen to follow
- Smooth scrolling should be turned off to allow screen readers to read links that are not visible on the current screen
- Animations, sounds and videos can be turned off to allow pages to download quicker, and may also help users who are sensitive to a flashing screen